I recently ran into a friend at the bus stop. She was carrying about a dozen plastic bags, all from Walmart.
“What are you doing shopping at Walmart?” I rudely asked her. “Haven’t you heard how they treat their workers?”
She had. She knew that Walmart’s low wages, minimal job benefits, and poor working conditions have sparked countless employee protests. She knew that the company has threatened, disciplined, and even fired employees who attended protests: a violation of federal labor law for which Walmart is currently being prosecuted by the National Labor Review Board. She even knew about Walmart’s refusal to compensate victims of the deadly Tazreen factory fire of 2012, despite the fact that over half of the factory’s production had been contracted by Walmart. “But I’m out of groceries,” she guiltily explained, “and on weekdays, the Green Line only goes to Walmart!”
She was right. On Sundays the Green Line travels to Pittsford Plaza, home to stores like Wegmans and Trader Joe’s; but on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, it’s Walmart or nothing. As a result, many students are like my friend: they want to shop ethically, but are unable to because of the current bus routes. Instead of a twice-weekly shuttle to Walmart, why not a thrice-weekly shuttle to Pittsford Plaza? This is by no means the only solution, but there should be some alternative to the current weekday ultimatum: Walmart or nothing.
“Walmart or nothing” is an unfair ultimatum to present to those students who need to shop during the week, and who are dependent on the buses for transportation. The university should be encouraging students to make considered, ethical, decisions as consumers and as citizens, rather than pressuring them (however inadvertently) to suppress their misgivings and shop at a store whose policies and business practices are repeatedly coming under fire: from employees, from workers’ rights organizations, from animal rights activists, and even from the U.S. judicial system.
Where should the Green Line go on Tuesdays and Wednesdays? In the end, it’s the students who should decide this question — or at least help to decide it. Shouldn’t we have a say in where we shop? I fully understand that the organization of bus routes is a complex matter that is not under student jurisdiction (though student preferences are represented to some extent by student government reps). I also understand that many different things must be taken into consideration here, including a wide variety of student preferences (after all, there are doubtless a handful of students who prefer Walmart to Wegmans and Trader Joe’s). I am not simply trying to make my voice heard; rather, I am proposing that the Transportation Advisory Committee — which oversees the campus shuttles — give students a chance to make their voices heard in this matter. The bottom line is, students should have more significant influence over the design of this particular bus route, since it determines where many of us buy our groceries—where we get our food from, and where we spend our money.
Daniel Nelson is a graduate student in
the Department of English.