In Lodi, the community has virtually rolled out the red carpet in anticipation of the Costco that could soon be built in the Reynolds Ranch center.
Meanwhile, attempts to construct a Super Walmart on Lower Sacramento Road and Kettleman Lane have been met with bitter resistance for the better part of a decade.
What is the difference?
Some say a Supercenter is opposed because it would create sprawl and traffic congestion, and fail to generate much new sales tax revenue.
But is it possible that union politics are a major reason Lodi hasn't embraced a Supercenter from the Bentonville, Ark. retailer?
"Absolutely," said City Council member and former mayor Larry Hansen. "Unions upset with Walmart have convinced people about what a bad company Walmart is. Costco is low-key and behind scenes, and (has) nowhere near the controversy."
He said Costco is able to escape scrutiny from grocery unions because they do not see the membership-only bulk-buy retailer as the enemy a Super Walmart is.
"People aren't going to buy a week's groceries at Costco," Hansen said. "It's not as threatening."
Another council member echoes Hansen's feelings about union politics shaping public perception.
"Super Walmart is a seller of grocery goods, and it's targeted by grocer unions who don't want it in the community," Bob Johnson said.
The two companies do have a distinctive workforces — and reputations.
Walmart, founded by Sam Walton in 1962, is the country's largest private employer, with roughly 1.4 million workers. Employees' average hourly wage varies from $8.25 to $12, depending on the position. The company has a contentious relationship with unions and has been widely criticized for having high employee turnover.
Costco, a membership-only bulk-buy retailer, began as Price Club in 1976 and has more than 400 stores nationwide. Less than 15 percent of its total workforce is unionized.
"We typically don't have union operations, but that doesn't mean we don't have a good relationship with the union," said Jim Sinegal, CEO of Costco, in a telephone interview.
He said he couldn't talk about employee compensation for the Reynolds Ranch store because the deal isn't completed. However, he said that if the deal is finalized, he doesn't expect the 200 to 250 employees in Lodi's store to be unionized.
Employees: 1.4 million (United States, 72,116 in California)
Union employees: 0
Average wage for full-time employee: $12.05
Sales: $401 billion in sales for fiscal year ending Jan. 31, 2009
Number of stores: 4,200 (Supercenters, discount stores and Sam's Club Warehouses)
Source: www.walmart facts.com
Total employees in U.S.: 83,600
Union employees: Union employees are grandfathered in from 1993 merger with Price Club
Average wage for full-time employees: $22 per hour
Annual revenues: $48 billion
Headquarters: Issaquah, Wash.
Yet Costco does have some union employees. It has a substantial number of full-time jobs as a percentage of its overall workforce, and better compensation packages.
Sinegal said the union employees at Costco are grandfathered in from the 1993 merger with Price Club.
As far as the community's perception of both Costco and Walmart, Sinegal said his store sells high-quality merchandise and provides well-paying jobs.
"We operate on a basis that what works for us may not work for Walmart," Sinegal said. "We have a different business plan that calls for a different strategy."
Perception meets reality
Jeff Abadir, regional vice president for Costco, said that roughly 60 percent of the store's workers are full-time and the average wage is $22 an hour. Tiffany Moffatt, a spokesperson for Walmart, said most of the company's 1.4 million workers are full-time employees.
A grocery union representative said they campaign against Walmart and have a better relationship with Costco because employees are treated much better at the bulk-buy store.
"Costco does not put downward pressure on wages and benefits," said Jill Cashen, spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers union. "They have a positive influence on the retail standard, as opposed to Walmart, which drives standards down with sub-standard wages and benefits."
Even though Costco has an image for treating its employees well, one economics professor feels that Walmart is despised simply because it is a big target as the nation's largest private employer.
"The attacks on Walmart seem unfair," said David Macpherson, Stevens Professor of Economics at Trinity University in San Antonio. "They are automatically assuming they are driving people out of business and hurting families."
Macpherson, who teaches at a private university, said his employer must adapt to a changing marketplace and offer services their competitors don't, a situation he said is exactly how Walmart competes in a free market.
"It's how the market works. If we charge too much or aren't efficient, people won't come to our school," he said. "Competition is a good thing."
He added that while he wouldn't want to work at Walmart, many do, and those who don't want to are free to find jobs elsewhere.
With the country's workforce at 140 million, Macpherson said there are 139 million other places where people who don't want to work for Walmart can look for jobs.
Why don't Walmart employees just form a union?
However, that doesn't change how some feel about Walmart employees not being able to organize. Even if workers at Walmart wanted to organize, the odds are stacked against them, according to one local expert.
Phil Tucker, project director for California Healthy Communities Network, said that Walmart is able to effectively fight unions because the process for creating a union takes a year or two, and the retailer has such a high turnover rate that organizing one is nearly impossible.
"You have to have at least 30 percent of employees sign cards. And once you go through the National Labor Relations board, you need the approval of contract negotiations," he said. "It's an archaic process that complicates it."
He also said that Walmart is able to fight unions because it isn't afraid to lay people off when they organize. He cited an example in 2000 when Walmart shut down its unionized Tyler, Texas, meat-cutting plant and all its meat-cutting departments in the country before switching to pre-packaged meats.
"It sends a powerful message to people," he said.
Even though the company has been battered around the nation and in the community for its methods, a spokesman for Walmart said they aren't losing sleep over it.
"We're not concerned about perception," said Aaron Rios, a Walmart public relations officer. "We're worried about serving customers."
Rios said the down economy has turned people into more frugal shoppers, and the retailer is focusing on getting consumers the best deals more than anything else.
Moffatt, also a spokesperson for Walmart, said associates don't unionize because the retailer has an open-door policy that enables employees of all levels to air any grievances directly to their superiors.
"We also promote based on merit instead of seniority," said Moffatt.
'It is what it is'
One City Council member understands opposition to a Lodi Walmart Supercenter, but her objection is separate of the union angle.
Council member JoAnne Mounce said that while she is a regular Walmart shopper and has nothing against the company, she understands why people would prefer a Costco as a neighbor rather than a Super Walmart.
"People wouldn't feel so adamantly about Walmart if they hadn't built their own reputation," Mounce said. "No one did that for them."
Mounce said she would prefer the area of the Alpine Meats factory on Lower Sacramento Road for a Supercenter, because it could clean up a blighted area. She said she is for the Costco in Reynolds Ranch because it is visible from the freeway, and can capitalize on regional traffic and obtain more customers.
However, one professor understands that this is a situation where perception and reality are the same thing.
Scott Testa, a marketing professor at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, said the public's beliefs about the two companies are shaped by how they treat both employees and customers.
"Costco has an image portrayed as not anti-union because it pays its workers better and their health benefits are better," he said.
He said he isn't attacking Walmart or hyping Costco, but merely stating the public perception.
"It is what it is," he said.