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Florida Wal-Mart Employees Show Signs of Organizing

TAMPA, Fla. -- A group of approximately 100 Wal-Mart employees who work in Florida stores from Melbourne to Crystal River have scheduled a news conference here today to air complaints about working conditions at the state's largest private employer.

While the United Food and Commercial Workers union has been trying to organize Wal-Mart workers in the United States and Canada for years, union officials say that for this new effort they are offering only advice to what's being called the Wal-Mart Workers Association, according to reports.

The group focused on the Tampa Bay area because it's a target area for the conversion of most of Wal-Mart's discount stores to supercenters. Neighborhood opposition rose against the conversion plans, helping to stop two of them from moving forward and tying a third one up in court in the past year. Only one new supercenter has opened in St. Petersburg, said reports.

One of the issues to be addressed during the press conference is a scheduling program that has riled some Wal-Mart employees in the Tampa Bay area and other parts of the country, who say they are forced to work fewer hours weekly, which makes it difficult to afford premiums on the company's health insurance program.

The workers group, which formed in April, is the first outward sign that Central Florida Wal-Mart workers are gathering privately to develop a list of common workplace grievances. "This press conference is going to be their coming out," said Rick Smith, an organizer for the Service Employees International Union who is working on loan for the Wal-Mart Alliance for Reform Now (WARN), a coalition of labor, antipoverty, and environmental groups steering a campaign nationwide to change the way Wal-Mart does business.

WARN and its parent group, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), yesterday submitted official comments to the FDIC opposing Wal-Mart's, request for a charter and deposit insurance protection for a proposed Wal-Mart Bank. The community groups expressed strong opposition to Wal-Mart's request that its new bank be exempt from the Community Reinvestment Act.

"Wal-Mart's proposed bank will weaken local economies," said WARN's Smith. "Wal-Mart says they should not have to follow the rules of the Community Reinvestment Act, because they will only provide 'selected core banking services' and not make loans. In other words, they plan to drain resources from local banks that play by the rules, and invest in their communities, to boost their bottom line."
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