Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Save Big Money

Menard's, the third largest home improvement retailer, headquartered in Eau Claire, has had problems with employee treatment, age discrimination, numerous environmental illegalities, amongst other infractions.

Just recently Lee Berquist wrote, "Menard ordered to pay $30,000 to settle illegal dumping charge." This concerned, "A 2007 case in which a pallet of herbicide was dumped on a parking island of a Menard store in Onalaska."

Needlessly environmentally reckless acts, such as this, are commonplace, it seems, for Menard's. As these excerpts from the Milwaukee Magazine show:
  • In 1994, Wisconsin obtained a civil judgment against Menards for the unlicensed transportation and disposal of ash produced by incinerating CCA-treated lumber. Wood treated with CCA contains chromium, copper and arsenic – a known carcinogen. It is considered hazardous waste and requires proper disposal in a licensed landfill. The company was fined $160,000.
  • In 1997, John Menard was caught using his own pickup truck to haul plastic bags filled with chromium and arsenic-laden wood ash to his own home for disposal along with his household trash. Menard pleaded no contest to felony and misdemeanor charges involving records violations, unlawful transportation and improper disposal of hazardous waste. Menard and his company were fined $1.7 million for 21 violations.
  • In 2003, the Minnesota attorney general charged that Menards manufactured and sold arsenic-tainted mulch in packaging labeled “ideal for playgrounds and for animal bedding.” Warning labels from the CCA-treated wood were found in the mulch. The EPA recommends that CCA-treated wood not be converted into mulch. The case is still pending.
  • In 2005, Menards agreed to a $2 million fine after Wisconsin DNR officials found a floor drain in a company shop that they believed was used to dump paint, solvents, oil and other waste into a lagoon that fed into a tributary of the Chippewa River. The sanction broke the previous record fine of $1.7 million set by Menard in 1997.
  • In 2006, the construction of a $112 million warehouse became a campaign issue in the Wisconsin governor’s race. The warehouse was to be erected by filling in a .6-acre bean field the DNR considers a seasonal wetland used by migrating tundra swans. Menards offered to build a wetland more than twice its size as a replacement, but was rejected by Scott Humrickhouse, a DNR regional director. Humrickhouse said that solution could be used “only when every alternative for saving the original wetland was exhausted.” The increasingly heated dispute got considerable media coverage, with a DNR warden calling Menard’s general counsel a “legal bitch” and the company threatening to move jobs out of Wisconsin. Tempers seemed to cool after Gov. Jim Doyle arranged $4.2 million in state aide to help the company expand its Eau Claire manufacturing headquarters. Menard had previously contributed $20,000 to Doyle’s campaign.
What punishment is going to stop this $6.6 billion annual sale behemoth from continuing to do such devastation? What would stop the owner - with a personal net worth of $5.2 billion - from doing such destructive acts? A $30,000 fine?

When it's cheaper to just dump the toxins into a stream or put it in a landfill and pay a fine, rather than taking the necessary and sometimes costly steps of disposing of such hazardous materials properly, short-sighted and greedy people will choose their bank accounts over your (and the planet's) health every time.

This is why regulation is necessary and in place for so many activities we participate in. Yes, it's messy. But, without it, our water, food, air, it would all be toxic; lowering the quality of life and the vitality of our whole civilization. These externalities (costs) have consequences on society that businesses do not pay for, nor do they take them into account when talking about their impact (economic and environmental) on a city or region.

This isn't a "substantial fine," as Menard's spokesman Jeff Abbott claims. It's a pittance considering the devastation not only to the land itself, but to the water supply and people of Wisconsin (and in the numerous other states where the stores are located). It is .000005 percent of Menard's annual sales.

Enforcing the regulations on the books would, no doubt, increase this expense for the company. But that's part of the cost of doing honest and responsible business. Instead, they just pollute alongside a comparatively meager donation ($30,000) and have taxpaying citizens pick up the bill - in soil contamination and land remediation costs, through water supply damage, through ecosystem degradation, and through health-related consequences.

Just another example of why we need to organize (unionize!) and bring back a healthy, sustainable, shared prosperity. We need rules. We can't allow disproportionate penalization for different classes within our society. The punishment should fit the crime and the criminal.

Wages for the majority of workers have stagnated since our adoption of trickle-down economics. A simultaneous decline in unionization has occurred. The economy grew 160% from 1973 to 2005. The top 1% saw their income grow 250%. Our (collective) loss is the enormous gain of a select few. Unionization has declined, while wages have stagnated. We're little rats, running faster and faster, yet losing ground. And while our 'social betters' gobble up more and more of the pie, they leave us with the effects of their waste and selfishness.

In the days before neoliberalism, and the unjustified adoration of the private sector and all-things business, there was inequality. But it was nothing like the grotesquely diabolical monster we see today. Our current era of inequality, ushered in by the false messiah of the right (Ronald Reagan), eclipses the Gilded Age. Let's give the Community idea another chance. Relatively speaking, our 'broadly-based, mixed economy of the (roughly) 1940-1970 period' served all of us much better than the 'post 1980 low tax/deregulation' experiment.

Let's govern the Menards of the world again.


Anonymous said...

John Menard is Eau Claire's largest employer. After Menard's, if you're not qualified in health care so that you can work at one of the hospitals, or not a teacher/professor, the next step down the employment ladder is... telemarketing, yep. Below that, Wal-mart, or you could make chocolate (Nestle) or horseradish at Silver Springs, which is heavy on the Hmong employees who are known for their high standards of living here so I bet that pays top notch too O_o.
How could you possibly unionize a bunch of desperate people with little to no other employment opportunities?
There's a related story about the top businesses in Chippewa falls (10 miles to the north) among "those who know" it's said that when a potential "major employer" has ever scouted the CF area (they have OODLES of developed spec land un-used Industrial Park space) but the existing businesses want to keep wages rock-bottom, so they supposedly maneuver, I dunno if it's to get Plan Commission buddies to deny requests or what, but that's what they say, they chase new business away to avoid competition. Politicians INVARIABLY win here (worse than other parts of the state IMO) when a candidate promises to attract jobs. Something they've promised and not delivered on for over 30 years. I really don't think a Union will help in this case. Not when a business has infinite other towns begging for them. Menards has the EC area job-force over a barrel. he can (and has threatened to many times) pick up and move. The council is all twitchy about that. John Menard gets REALLY pissed if anyone expects him to follow rules.
No start-up union is gonna be big enough to put a dent in Menards, it's just too big now. Also, no amount of unionizing would stop Menard' from stuffing arsenic in his bags, and dumping crap down storm drains.The logic on that point does not follow.
Nor will it stop him from video-taping people (ostensibly shoplifters) in the bathrooms.
Go before you leave home, eh?

Doesn't matter anyways, your man-at-the-helm wouldn't support your initiatives here. Obama is neither pro-Union nor pro-regulation. Yay 2012! Change You Used To Believe In But Now Don't! Go Dems!

Anonymous said...

this reminds me that EC's employment line-up is a great snapshot of why I get so "bitchy" at state employees unions and teachers. if you look ate EC you have Big Money healthcare on top, next the City and teachers, all with good benefits, cost of living guarantees and nifty work environments (presumably no random bags of arsenic) all being paid for (thru taxes) by people who work at Menards, Wal-mart, and the Charlton Group (telemarketing) or making horseradish, or even less lucrative jobs. Like what, the Kwik-Trip? But you still hear all the noise about how "we" need to support the teachers or we don't "care" about our kids, and how state employees are so beleaguered. That doesn't cut the mustard (OR the horseradish) when it comes to real people's real lives. So, it's a real mess, and it doesn't seem like the old pat answers apply any more.