IBEW Member Featured In Wal-Mart Documentary
December 2, 2004
When Wal-Mart came to town, Steve Ratcliff never linked the giant retailer to the shut down of Thomson Inc.s Circleville, Ohio, TV glass-making plant where he worked for almost 31 years.
That was until Hedrick Smith of Public Broadcasting Systems Frontline interviewed him for the documentary, "Is Wal-Mart Good For America?" It "opened my eyes," he said. Ratcliff wasnt alone. The audience for the show was the largest of any Frontline show since 2001, except for programs profiling presidential candidates.
The show details how a nation where manufacturing was once king has become one where Wal-Mart and other "big box" stores are boss. Through interviews with American workers and manufacturing executives, Frontline shows how domestic producers are under constant duress by Wal-Mart to cut their prices even if it means relocating to China or other low-wage areas. Ratcliff describes what its like to "feel like youve been a failure" after spending "your whole life on one job" and then finding out that you are not prepared for the future when the job is no longer there.
Thomson Inc., which employed IBEW members in Ohio and Indiana, is now part of Chinas TCL Inc., the largest consumer electronics company in the world. TCL is a major supplier to Wal-Mart and pared off against the IBEW and IUE-CWA at the International Trade Commission over unfairly traded TV imports. In June 2004, the ITC ruled in favor of the unions, but it was too late for Thomsons U.S. facilities. Ratcliff and approximately 1,400 other workers lost their jobs.
Brother Ratcliff, a former chief steward for IBEW Local 2331, stayed active as a member. He says, "I tried to support our officers because I knew what their jobs were like." Tony Blankenship, IBEW International Representative, who served as president and business manager of the local says: "Steve was one of those guys who you could always count on for advice and ideas."
"Im one of the lucky ones," says Ratcliff, who is eligible to collect a reduced pension at age 55. "Ive found a good-paying job, close to home, but others are traveling long distances for a lot less money. Its tough."
"Many friends saw the show on Wal-Mart and want to talk about it," he says. "One 59 year-old man I worked with for over 30 years saw the show and said he wont shop in Wal-Mart again."
PBS is considering rerunning the documentary in 2005. It can be seen online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/walmart/. The site also contains additional information. Smith also did an online chat session about the show that can be located at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A45855-2004Nov12.html.