Just minutes after President Obama wrapped up his speech on solar energy Friday at a Walmart in Mountain View, Democratic National Committee member Chris Stampolis looked around at the racks of American flag-themed bikinis and $5.44 T-shirts made in China — and just sighed.
“We certainly obviously support the president — we’re thrilled that he’s in the White House,” he said. “But we’re quite concerned that the message that you send when you come to Walmart — especially in the Bay Area — is not a really consistent message with the working people and Democrats within this community.
“So we’re certainly also trying to send a message to the White House and to the president that additional communication with party activists helps in the long run, in terms of helping to build the base and communication,” Stampolis said.
Ouch. No communication from the White House? No heads-up to Democrats in the ATM of the Bay Area and Silicon Valley?
“Unfortunately, choosing this location has created a bit of distrust between the leaders of organized labor here in the Bay Area and the Democratic Party,” Stampolis said. “So those of us who serve as national members on the DNC level want to ensure we’re also standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in labor.”
Walmart US CEO Bob Simon told the gathering that it was believed to be the first time that a sitting president had ever visited a Walmart. And certainly the crowds of young workers at the store appeared jazzed and more than proud to have POTUS on the grounds.
But Stampolis’ words underscored what Democrats said was a lot of head-shaking over Obama’s decision to announce a policy initiative at a chain that the United Food and Commercial Workers and other unions have reviled for its low wages and benefits and alleged discrimination against female employees.
Democratic concerns about labor’s anger may have explained the absence of House members and legislative leaders at the kind of public presidential event where they usually jockey to be recognized.
Some party activists, including Stampolis, said that had the White House consulted with local Democrats, they would have warned what the reaction would be.
As it was, Stampolis said, “I found out on Monday. … I hear Walmart, and I think, ‘OK, what’s he going to speak about? Wages or something?’ I even called DNC staff.
“An hour and a half later they called back and said, ‘No, he’s going to give them an award on environmental sustainability.’ ”
An alarmed Stampolis sent a note to the DNC Western listserve to express his concerns.
“It’s not just about the hourly wages paid to the workers, but it’s about the actual facility,” he said. “Walmart has a long history of building nonunion.”
He also pointed out that labor activists have blasted Walmart for being on the receiving end of a flow of goods made overseas by workers making “slave wages.”
[dc]“S[/dc]o why, in this particular case, would the president choose this location?” Stampolis asked. “He could have gone down to Apple Computer — there’s a multimillion labor agreement there, and wonderful environmental sustainability.
“There’s also the new 49ers stadium in Santa Clara,” Stampolis said, noting that much of its energy usage will be green-generated. He called it “a perfect facility to host something like this.”
“So we actually were a little … perplexed as to what the choice point was regarding this particular facility,” Stampolis said.
“Perplexed” is putting it nicely, it seems.