Berkshire Central Labor Council opposes new Pittsfield Walmart Supercenter


PITTSFIELD >> As officials continue negotiations to bring a Walmart Supercenter to the William Stanley Business Park, a Berkshire group representing organized labor has come out against the project calling it "an insult to the community."

The Berkshire Central Labor Council, which represents 26 local unions, recently voted against the proposal to locate a 190,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter on the business park's 16.5 acre "teens parcel" that borders Woodlawn Avenue and Tyler Street.

Waterstone Retail Development of Needham announced the $30 million proposal in June when it signed a letter of intent with the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority to negotiate a purchase and sales agreement to use the teens site. PEDA is the quasi-public agency charged with the 52-acre Stanley Business Park's development.

The project, known as Woodlawn Crossing, would eventually morph into a mixed-use development around the business park's boundaries with the new Walmart Supercenter serving as the catalyst for the additional development, Waterstone officials have said.

In a statement, the Berkshire Central Labor Council stated that it was the consensus of its delegates that the jobs promised by Walmart "would not offer wages nor benefits sufficient to support working families.

"Bringing jobs that will in all likelihood require individuals (to) seek out public services despite working are an insult to the community," the statement read.

Walmart has operated a store in the Berkshire Crossing Shopping Center on Hubbard Avenue in Pittsfield since 1995 that was recently remodeled.

If the $30 million Supercenter proposal goes forward, plans call for Walmart to close its current store and move all 200 of its employees to its new store which would be located in Pittsfield's Morningside neighborhood, one of the city's poorest communities, an area that contains several small businesses.

In its statement, the Berkshire Central Labor Council said because Walmart Supercenters have resulted in the closing of nearby small businesses and grocery stores, "Pittsfield may actually lose better paying positions, taxpaying enterprises that have served us for many, many years and choice in where we spend our dollars.

"The members of the Berkshire Central Labor Council strongly reject the idea that any new enterprise on the PEDA site is better than nothing and encourage the PEDA board to attract sustainable jobs."

Berkshire Central Labor Council President Brian Morrison has not returned repeated phone calls seeking comment. Anton Melchionda, a principal partner at Waterstone Retail also did not return a telephone call seeking comment, nor did a spokesman for Walmart. Waterstone is the second-largest real estate owner in New England.

The majority of the positions at the proposed Walmart Supercenter would be full-time, which at Walmart means at least 34 hours per week, project officials said when they signed the letter of intent with PEDA in June. In Massachusetts, the hourly wage for full-time Walmart employees, excluding new workers, is $14.69, project officials have said. Benefits for Walmart employees also include access to a 401(k) plan.

In an interview with The Eagle after Waterstone's June meeting with PEDA, Melchionda said a misperception exists when it comes to the salaries that Walmart pays its employees, and the impact the company can have on existing businesses.

"When you have that conversation, and I think it gets lost in the press, is that when you look at the metrics, not only the benefits that Walmart gives but what the actual pay is to the actual employee, there's this misnomer in the country that Walmart doesn't pay their employees well. I think that's an important thing to look at," Melchionda said.

"It comes down to people's perceptions," he said. "In some communities in other parts of the country, Walmart comes in, they've never been there, and they can negatively impact some of the businesses."

Because Pittsfield has already had a Walmart for 21 years, the only additional impact a Supercenter would have on the community is the addition of a grocery store, which the Hubbard Avenue store doesn't have, Melchionda said.

"The only thing we're doing here is providing them a new store with a grocery, which is a need in that part of the community," he said, referring to the Morningside neighborhood, which doesn't have a supermarket.

"So there should be little or no impact on the businesses that are here," Melchionda said.

In mid-June, Waterstone signed its letter of intent with PEDA, providing the company with an exclusive 60-day window to negotiate the purchase and sales agreement to use the teens parcel. But that negotiating period expired without resolution in August.

PEDA's board recently voted to extend the negotiating period an additional 60 days until Oct. 20.

PEDA's Executive Director Cory Thurston believes the negotiations should be concluded either on or before the organization's next scheduled meeting on Oct. 19.

"Most likely we'll have a special meeting before that because I anticipate this contract will be completed before (October) and the board needs to ratify the agreement," Thurston said.

"I'm confident that we will get a contract in place, yes," he said.

According to Thurston, the original letter of intent between Waterstone and PEDA provided for the possibility of an additional 60-day negotiating period if the parties couldn't reach an agreement within the first two months.

"But it wasn't an automatic extension, so they went back and voted on it," Thurston said, referring to the PEDA board.

An agreement on the purchase and sales agreement between PEDA and Waterstone has been delayed due to the myriad organizations that have to approve a document of this type, Thurston said.

"Just about everything we do involves General Electric," he said. "Even though we own the property, they still have rights. The EPA and the DEP also have rights to weigh in. So we've got Walmart, Waterstone, GE, the EPA, the DEP and PEDA all a party to this one document.

"It's the timing," he said. "It's summer and a whole lot of people have to look at this document. I hope we can get this finished up within 60 days."

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.


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