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Wal-Mart, unions reach tentative deal for possible NYC stores

By Jessica Naziri, CNN
  • Wal-Mart: "Agreement in principal" ensures union workers will build, renovate stores
  • Small businesses and elected officials fiercely oppose building of Walmarts in the city
  • "Wal-Mart stands to be our city's Trojan Horse," public advocate says at hearing
  • Expansion will bring jobs, food choices to underserved areas, Wal-Mart says

New York (CNN) -- The retailer known for being virtually ubiquitous everywhere but in America's largest city is poised to change that, despite fierce opposition from New York City's small businesses and elected officials.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and New York construction unions have reached an "agreement in principal" that could pave the way for Walmarts to be built in the city, said Steven Restivo, director of community affairs for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

But opponents have been vocal in denouncing the mega-retailer, pointing to what they describe as a history of poor labor practices and the unfair competition it will bring to small business.

"The history of the last decade tells us that Wal-Mart stands to be our city's Trojan Horse," said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. "Wal-Mart's record of driving small businesses out of town and paying below-poverty-line wages to its employees will only exacerbate the current decline of New York City's middle class.

City council members voiced their criticism at a hearing Thursday, saying the retailer can do more harm than good.

"No other company has the revenue, power and size to move the market the way it does," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said.

"No matter what Wal-Mart propaganda propaganda says, they are nota company that is good for New York City," Quinn said.

Wal-Mart has led an aggressive PR campaign marketing itself as a cure for some what Restivo described as the city's most "underserved areas in terms of jobs and access to affordable food." He declined to give specifics about what areas the company was considering for sites, or how many stores it hoped to build.

Restivo said the company and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York will launch "apprenticeship and work-force development programs" so New York residents can secure construction jobs.

Restivio said that if Wal-Mart decides to open locations in any of the five boroughs, "the five-year principal agreement" with the construction unions "will guarantee that union workers will construct or renovate any stores that the retailer opens, including both owned and leased property."

A deal similar to the one reached in New York helped to help pave the way for Wal-Mart's expansion into Chicago.

Represtentatives of the Building and Construction Trades Council had not returned, by Thursday night, several calls from CNN requesting comment.

The company said it had determined, using research polls, that New Yorkers spent more than $195 million at Walmarts outside the city.

Wal-Mart officials earlier in the week declined attended Thursday's hearing, citing "the hypothetical nature of the proceedings and the fact that it ignores the impact of the hundreds of similarly sized stores that exist in the city today."