Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Forum Does the Unthinkable – Supporting Expansion of Walmart in Washington D. C.

It’s Not Like the City is Full of Virtuous Organizations Anyway

It has been a long time since the community battle against Walmart was over.  Towns and cities all across America fought the giant retailer in a futile attempt to protect local business.  The fight is over.  Walmart won.  Big power retailers almost always win.

But the local government of Washington (the nation’s capital, not the town in Pennsylvania) didn’t hear the news.  They are trying to prevent Walmart from entering the city, unless, that is, Walmart enters on the DC’s terms.

IT CANNOT be said that officials in Washington, DC lack confidence. True, the District has a jobless rate nearly a point higher than the national average, and over three points higher than neighbouring Virginia. But according to Vincent Orange, a city council member, the District is “at a point where we don’t need retailers”. Retailers, he claims, need the District.

The council seems eager to test this hypothesis. On July 10th it passed a bill requiring retailers with at least $1 billion in annual sales and stores of more than 75,000 square feet to pay their workers $12.50 an hour—over 50% more than the city’s minimum wage of $8.25, which is already a dollar above the federal rate.

The bill did not mention Walmart by name, but it might as well have. It does not apply to Walmart’s unionised rivals, such as Giant and Safeway. And it does not apply to existing stores for four years. That leaves only Walmart, which had planned to open six new stores in the District.

Now it’s not like Walmart plans to rob and pillage the nation’s capital (hasn’t that already been done by the House and Senate?). 

Walmart had tried to smooth its entry into the District by promising job-training programmes, transport projects and heaps of charitable giving. Other big companies can expect juicy incentives to move to Washington, but not Walmart. The Beast of Bentonville even refused to take a tax break to which it was entitled. It says its six stores would create 1,800 new jobs and generate millions in tax revenue.

And despite the wealth generated by the federal government, (that goes to the wealthy few)  the regular people in the city need jobs and need low cost shopping and need help.  So yes, Walmart is not a perfect employer and no they don’t want to pay $12.50 minimum wage and yes they do have alternatives. 

It has had better luck in Chicago: a wage bill similar to the District’s was vetoed by the then-mayor, Richard Daley, in 2006. As Vincent Gray, the District’s mayor, decides whether to follow suit, he might note that Walmart has just opened its ninth store in the Windy City.

But politics is trumping economics and welfare for working men and women in DC, it usually does.

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