Wal-Mart is again proposing to expand its Rohnert Park discount store to a 143,000-square-foot supercenter selling both general merchandise and groceries. A lawsuit stopped the project in 2011, but the Planning Commission recently approved a revised environmental impact report. The City Council will soon consider the project. If approved, the supercenter's economic and environmental impacts will extend far beyond Rohnert Park, to the entire county and across the region.
The changes to the project are minor. Not minor is the staggering accumulation of wealth by the six Walton heirs who own or control half the Wal-Mart company stock. The Economic Policy Institute reports that the Walton family wealth climbed from $70 billion in 2007 to $100 billion in 2012 — exceeding the combined assets of the bottom 42 percent of all American families.
How could the wealth of the Waltons soar while the median family income fell by 40 percent between 2007 and 2010? In both booms and busts Sam Walton's business strategy never changed: pay poverty wages, minimize health insurance expenditures, squeeze suppliers to lower costs, bust unions and lower prices to drive out the competition.
The supercenter will employ more than 400 workers. According to the company, the average hourly wage for a Wal-Mart employee was $12.74 in 2012, well below the living wage for Sonoma County of $19.11 an hour (a rate calculated by the California Budget Project) that enables two parents working full-time to support two children and to pay for housing, food, health care, transportation and child care. Since more than 50 percent of employees quit during their first year, half of all Wal-Mart workers earn entry-level wages of less than $10 an hour.
In 2011, Wal-Mart announced that it would not offer health care coverage to new part-time workers employed less than 30 hours a week; and the company intends to double the number of part-time employees to 40 percent. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2011 only 47 percent of Wal-Mart employees received health care benefits. The percentage of insured employees will drop further with the increase and exclusion of part-time employees and higher premiums and deductibles for eligible full-time workers.