Jeffrey Hollender is a pretty cool guy. His company, Seventh Generation, makes some of the best consumer products on the market today. My son owes him a particular debt of gratitude because every other diaper on the market (except the ones they sold in Romania) gave him a rash. Because of his company’s concern for the environment and other progressive causes, he has resisted selling his products at Walmart.
I’ve sometimes said that hell would freeze over before Seventh Generation would ever do business with Wal-Mart. In fact, at times I’ve made even more strongly worded statements. Now I’ve got to concede that I was wrong. For the first time ever, the Seventh Generation logo is appearing in a handful of stores that are owned by Wal-Mart.
Those stores are Walmart Marketsides in Arizona, not Supercenters. Nevertheless, Hollender is concerned enough about the move to title his post on Greenbiz.com, “Has Seventh Generation Sold Out by Working with Wal-Mart?”
Most of his justification for working with Walmart revolves around its environmental efforts which are well-known to readers of this blog. Hollender deserves great props for also mentioning the company’s atrocious labor record:
I told Scott that Wal-Mart’s tattered relationship with labor unions was a fundamental problem, and his refusal to meet with the Service Employees International Union was totally unacceptable. Apparently, Scott heard the same from other critics, because 18 months later, he and SEIU chief Andy Stern announced a goal of achieving affordable health care for all US residents by 2012.
The problem is that that one meeting with Andy Stern is the only sign of change that Hollender can cite in his post. Even then, that meeting was only a sign that Walmart recognizes that it has a health care problem, not a labor union problem.
Does Hollender realize that things are going to get a lot worse between Walmart and unions before they get better? Yes, I’m talking about the Employee Free Choice Act again. This came out from Reuters over the weekend:
Opponents say the law is unbalanced as written and will lead to workers being coerced into joining unions and permit arbitrators to undermine employers’ control by setting wages, benefits and work rules.
“This bill is Armageddon for the employer community,” said Randy Johnson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “(It) can artificially drive up wages and create work rules that remove flexibility.”
“We’ll have wage-led inflation for the first time ever in this country if this happens and I don’t know if this economy can stand it,” said William Adams, who helps employers plot strategy.
Adams said unions could make unreasonable demands then wait for the arbitrator to split the difference with the employer’s offer. Arbitrators can ignore outrageous demands, supporters say.
Do you notice the shift away from the “They’re going to take away your right to a secret ballot” rhetoric (which didn’t work in the election) to a “Unions cost too much” argument? Besides being a great sign that the union side is winning, it tells you that the rubber is about to hit the road. What I mean by this is that companies with allegedly progressive agendas are going to have to choose between those agendas and short-term profitability as far as their workers are concerned. Put up or shut up time is right around the corner.
I have enough faith in Walmart to predict that they will do their best to to do neither as far as labor is concerned and I have enough faith in Seventh Generation to predict that therefore this experiment will be short-lived.