The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

May 9, 2014

Obama, at Wal-Mart, touts efficiency; angers labor

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — President Barack Obama is showcasing Wal-Mart, often a target of labor groups and other Democratic constituencies, to promote advances in energy efficiency in his broader campaign to confront climate change.

Obama on Friday was to announce commitments from more than 300 companies and local and state governments to use solar energy technology. He also was announcing executive actions aimed at increasing energy efficiency in buildings and appliances. The White House says the solar effort will power the equivalent of 130,000 homes and the administrative actions could reduce carbon pollution in an amount equal to taking 80 million cars off the road for one year.

The White House chose Wal-Mart because the company has committed to doubling the number of solar energy projects at its stores, Sam's Clubs and distribution centers.

But in choosing the giant retailer as the backdrop for his announcement, Obama triggered a backlash from labor unions and pay equity advocates who say Wal-Mart pays low wages and who archly noted that Obama has made pay equity a central issue of his presidency.

"What numbskull in the White House arranged this?" former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who served in the Bill Clinton administration, said in a posting on Facebook on Thursday.

"While he's in California, I would hope President Obama would speak directly to Wal-Mart employees and hear from them about their daily struggles to pay the rent and put food on the table," said Maria Elena Durazo, the executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

Wal-Mart says it pays wages that are competitive in the retail industry.

The clashing energy vs. jobs message is not new to the White House. Labor unions, for example, have pressed the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada into the U.S. because it would create jobs. Environmentalists oppose the pipeline, and the administration recently put off a decision on whether to approve it, likely until after the November congressional elections.

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