"This is not a union issue," said Susan Michielli, an organizer with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1360 in Berlin. "All we want to protect is the area standards we have built up over the years."
The UFCW represents about 29,000 South Jersey workers, including employees at the Bradlees department store at Liberty Square and at a nearby Acme supermarket on Route 130.
The 121,079-square-foot Wal-Mart is the newest of the discount chain's 10 stores in the state. Eight have opened in the last year.
Union representatives, who visited Burlington City merchants in November to gauge their feelings about the Wal-Mart, plan to hand out leaflets urging people to continue patronizing other businesses.
"It's going to cost other people their jobs and other people money," said Wendall Young 4th, vice president of UFCW Local 1776 in Norristown, Pa. ''Every time one of those things has opened up, the issue's the same."
UFCW officials said they hope to minimize the damage Wal-Mart could do not only to other stores but also to the wages and benefits of workers in the area.
Steve Bristow, manager of the new Wal-Mart, would say only that he was not surprised by the union's arguments.
"That's going on in every store we've had," he said.
Robert W. Ghaul, president of the Greater Burlington Chamber of Commerce, said he disagrees with the union's assessment, and added that media reports about Wal-Mart destroying small businesses tend to refer to areas not served by other discount chains.
"With the big discount market that we have in this area, they'll just blend in," Ghaul said. "I do not see it having a great effect on small businesses."
Among those supporting the union's efforts is Burlington City Councilman Richard E. Clark, who manages the bakery department at the Burlington City Acme. Its employees are represented by UFCW Local 1360.
"I will be with my union, helping to pass out any pamphlets they want to pass out," Clark said. "It (competition) is great for the consumers, because the prices are right, but then people are out of jobs. I'm definitely not in favor of the store."