Wal-Mart view on cargo inspections draws fire

March 23, 2007|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,Sun reporter

A union-backed activist group called yesterday for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to drop opposition to the inspection of all cargo containers that come through U.S. ports for bomb-making materials.

Wake Up Wal-Mart, which has long targeted the giant retailer's pay and benefit policies, held news conferences in 15 cities yesterday to unveil a new television ad and draw attention to one of the nation's largest importers.

The group does not represent port or Wal-Mart workers, although the union backers have sought to organize the retailer's work force.

"Tighter security benefits everyone," said Brian Nesbit, a local coordinator for Wake Up Wal-Mart and an organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. "The port is obviously an exposed avenue for potential terrorist activity."

A Wal-Mart spokesman said the company does not oppose 100 percent scanning of containers, but it joined with other industry officials who have said that they don't believe the technology yet exists to do it efficiently.

"Wal-Mart is proud of our efforts to ensure a more secure supply chain, and we will continue to play a central role into finding real solutions to enhance cargo security," said spokesman Robert Traynham.

"This union-funded ad is in poor taste and an irresponsible attempt to avoid facts and play upon people's fears and disparage our company. The 127 million Americans that shop at our stores every week know this is a campaign rooted in politics and nothing else."

In December, the Department of Homeland Security said it would begin screening for nuclear and radiological material in containers at six foreign ports before they leave for the U.S.

The pilot program, based on one operating in Hong Kong, will affect just 7 percent of the 11 million containers that enter U.S. ports annually, but officials hope to expand the program if global companies like Wal-Mart, governments and others embrace it.

The containers, 20- to 40-foot- long metal boxes, hold many of the items typically sold by American retailers such as electronics, furniture, toys and clothes.

In a separate move yesterday, Wal-Mart publicly disclosed that it would pay $529.8 million in bonuses to 813,759 full and part-time workers at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores in the U.S.

The payments average $651, the company said. It was the first time in more than a decade of giving the bonuses that the discount retailer, which is under pressure to boost employee wages and benefits, has made the information public.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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