Four Ways Meijer is Morphing into Walmart (Including Donating to Privatize Your School)

A Meijer in Midland, Michigan.

A Meijer in Midland, Michigan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a lot of reasons to choose Meijer over WalMart.  Meijer is based in Michigan rather than Arkansas.  Meijer is still a private business, 13th largest in the U.S according to Forbes, instead of a heartless corporation.  Some of Meijer’s workers are organized which means that they have a say in their working conditions.  Yet, Meijer is slowly becoming a lot more like Walmart.  Here are four reasons why.

Reason 1: The Walmart heirs, who alone have as much wealth as the bottom 40% of Americans, have donated millions to the school privatization movement (yet your local public school probably buys loads of stuff from Walmart).  In Michigan, the organization leading the privatization movement is the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP).  GLEP is funded in large part by over a million dollars in donations from the DeVos family.  Walmart heirs Jim and John Walton have chipped in though, donating $100,000 each to the organization.   Meijer founder Hendrick Meijer donated $1,000 to GLEP when the non-profit was just getting started.  While these were donations by major stakeholders in these companies, they were not donated directly by the company.  That is until 2011 when Meijer directly donated $20,000 to GLEP.  When I contacted their charitable giving department, I was told that Meijer does not donate to political organizations. Further inquiry lead me to Stacie Behler’s office. Behler is the Vice President of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs.  According to her Linkdin profile, she is in charge of “public relations, corporate philanthropy, government affairs and internal communications, partnerships and promotions for Meijer.”  Behler also sits on the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, and Meijer and the DeVos company Amway are both members.  Behler also sits on the board of the Economic Club of Grand Rapids.   Dick DeVos has been a featured speaker for that group.  It is safe to assume their paths have crossed more than once.  While I couldn’t reach Behler to ask her if DeVos lobbied her personally for the money, I was connected with her assistant Heather Roland.  Roland indicated that she would try to get me more answers about how and why such a large donation occurred on behalf of Meijer.  However, Roland never called me back with the information and several voicemails left for her were never returned.

Reason 2: Both Meijer and Walmart seem to lack compassion for their customers and their employees.  In October, Walmart fired a Michigan worker in Hartland for helping a women who was being assaulted in their parking lot.  Not to be outdone, in November Meijer fired a worker in Gaylord for putting out a customer’s car fire!   Both cited violation of company policy.  Apparently, being a good Samaritan is frowned upon in those establishments.

Reason 3: As Meijer has grown they have become less community centered.  For instance, Meijer made a “corporate decision” to stop  free publications from being distributed in their stores.  Some of those publications contained important notices by local municipalities.  Attempts by concerned parties to keep these publications in stores was not successful.  However, Meijer was successfully lobbied by hunting activists to cancel a contest that was set to help the Humane Society of the United States.  The money was to be earmarked for pets whose families were going through foreclosure.  Back in in 1994 Meijer began banning Salvation Army bell ringers from their stores.  Meijer made the decision to ban the Salvation Army, the Girl Scouts, and everyone else because they wanted to prevent unionized workers from handing out leaflets.

Reason 4: Meijer has become more and more political and less ethical.  In 2007, a firm hired by Meijer attempted to get local elected officials recalled when they wouldn’t approve a large development, which included a Meijer store, in Acme near Traverse City. According to an article in Harpers, Stacy Behler (referenced above) may have been involved in the recall campaign based on phone records.  Harpers writer Alec MacGillis, like myself, was unable to talk to Behler because she did not return his phone calls.  When the Record Eagle ran a series of news stories about the controversy, Meijer pulled $250,00 worth of advertising from the newspaper.  According to Harpers, six Record Eagle employees lost their job in large part do to that move by Meijer.  Meijer ultimately paid $190,000 in fines for violating Michigan Campaign Finance laws because the company made direct contributions to the recall rather than using a political action committee.  Meijer got the last laugh on this one though as they will finally be getting a store in Acme after more than a ten year battle with locals.  Ron Hardin, a member of the Acme town board who finally voted to approve the development told MacGillis “in the end it was easier to go along with it than to keep fighting it over every little thing, and there was a big fatigue factor involved for everyone.”

It’s getting hard and harder to go grocery shopping.  I believe when you give a business a dollar it is a lot like giving a political candidate your vote.  As we have seen with Meijer and Walmart, those dollars may actually end up in the hands of a group trying to privatize your job or influence your local elections.  So I’ll try to do most of my shopping at smaller Michigan grocery stores, farmers markets, and mercantile stores.  If you aren’t a fan of the Walmarts of the world, of which Meijer is quickly becoming one, you may want to join me.

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