AB84 and the Conservative Media's Unbeliveable Lies

I was recently alerted to the passage of AB84, a bill that is now awaiting California Governor Gray Davis' signature or veto. AB84 concerns the planning and zoning of retail stores throughout California but is calculated to aid local supermarkets and pharmacies. It is also, at its heart, meant to assist the unions that have long represented and protected the employees at these supermarkets but have been unable to gain the support from the employees at superstores such as Wal-Mart or Costco and the like.

The bill will essentially bar local governments from granting a business license to any retail store of 100,000 square feet or more if that store will also have more than 15,000 square feet devoted to non-taxable items, meaning food and drugs.

The e-mail message which was forwarded to me contained a link to the San Francisco Chronicle but, once one figured out that the provided link actually went nowhere, searching the site from the main page produced what appeared to be an editorial and an article on the subject.

Now, before I offer my opinion on the bill, itself, allow me to quote a couple sections from the Chronicle's writer.

First, on Sept 10, Carol Emert, a Chronicle staff writer, made the dubious claim that, "Local governments and discount superstores were scrambling to regroup yesterday after the state Legislature passed a surprise bill that would prohibit many new Costcos, Kmarts and Wal-Marts from being built in California."

This one sentence makes it appear that the sponsors of this bill acted completely behind closed doors and hid their intention all the way through the legislative process until they were, somehow, capable of getting it voted on without anyone in the media or the industry groups being any the wiser.

Next, she goes on to quote, again without researching the facts, one Dan Carrigg, a lobbyist for the League of California Cities who claimed, "AB84, backed by some of the Legislature's most powerful Democrat's, was put up for a vote just hours after it was printed, giving opponents inadequate time to fight... There are still people out there who have no idea this bill exists, let alone that it already went to the Governor."

Well, as is so often the case with the media these days, this reporter obviously didn't bother to do any research on the history of this bill or the honesty of this lobbyist or she would have uncovered exactly what I did in less than ten minutes of searching the state Legislature's site. The fact is that this bill's long journey to passage began by being introduced on December 9, 1998, which was also the date it was sent to the printer, returning to the Legislature on December 10. From that time until its passage, AB84 was mentioned in the Legislative record 28 separate times and was voted on in various committees and on the floor seven separate times.

Folks, it has become obvious that the media's representatives, at the Chronicle in particular it seems, have become lazy, slovenly and unable to do even the smallest amount of research, relying instead on quotes from obviously biased sources and then treating these lies and half truths as if there were some news worthy value in them.

In what appears to be the editorial, a wonderful piece of double talk came from a constitutional law professor from USC who could actually say with a straight face, "The only purpose of this bill seems to be helping some companies at the expense of others ... This seems to me to be classic special-interest legislation." Well, DUH! The last twenty years of Republican rule in California has seen nothing but "special-interest" legislation enacted completely to benefit the industry who could offer the largest bribes and to restrict the rights of California's workers in any way possible. To think that the Democrats wouldn't steer the law away from Corporate America's ownership and to begin giving California's workers a voice once again is the mark of either a fool of someone too naive to use as a source in any story.

Now that the conservative media's ineptness or, more likely, completely biased reporting has been exposed and discussed, let's look at the reason that this bill came about and why Governor Davis should sign it into law.

The Rabid Right's overt hatred of organized labor has long been known to all Americans. The Rabid Right sees no irony in supporting the rights of industry to organize themselves into PACs and lobbying groups while fighting every attempt for labor, that's you and I, to organize ourselves for our protection and benefit. In fact, the last election witnessed the nastiest example of the Right's hatred of the working Americans when they tried to fool the state's voters into removing the worker's voice from government through Proposition 226.

Now that the tables are turned and unions are trying to get a foothold in these labor unfriendly superstores the Rabid Right and their media will go to any length to keep unions from offering the workers the right to organize for their future benefit and security.

The claim, by some, that allowing unions to organize the workers in Wal-Mart or K-Mart will force them to close their stores and will result in great losses of jobs is absurd and has no evidence to support it. I have often asked for just one, single example of a business failing because of the work force organizing and not one has been offered,

The great fear that these stores will close rather than limit their floor space devoted to the listed products and services is, of course, nonsense, as well. The only difference between Wal-Mart now, with low paid workers without even the masquerade of job security and a Wal-Mart with an organized work force is that the latter may see a small decrease in its profit but the community, as a whole, will benefit from the wages that these workers earn being spent on better housing and health care and better transportation, resulting in increased property values and taxes as well as sales taxes and local payroll taxes, all of the things too many Americans will never see if not for unions.

Wal-Mart, in particular, has long been known for its predatory practices of moving into towns and vastly undercutting local pharmacies and grocery stores, driving them out of business. Once all competition in the area has been removed, the prices once again increase. The net loss to the community, though, isn't just the empty shells that once held the local pharmacist or the local grocer. It's not even the jobs that are lost to the superstores, either. Instead, it the accumulation of all of these changes that takes away whatever character that a town might once have had before it became just another "Wal-Mart community".

For that individual who actually claimed that the passage of this bill is unnecessary because of that vaporous "booming economy" then my only question is this; if the economy is doing so well then what harm can come from sharing that wonderful fruit with someone other than stockholders who provide zero wealth and zero benefit to anyone save themselves? If these stores so fear the idea that workers will become organized, why not just offer higher pay and better benefits so that the need to organize diminishes?

Gentle readers, I am openly a supporter of the protections and benefits that the American worker gains through being organized. I also understand the complaints about unions that many hold but, considering the alternative of all of us being at the mercy of Corporate America's whims and greed, I firmly believe that belonging to unions and changing them from in the inside is the better course. That belief convinces me that I must express my support for AB84 to Gov. Davis and urge his signature at the earliest opportunity. (1, 2, 3)

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Copyright 9/25/99