Walmart has launched a charm offensive as part of its new urban strategy to impose smaller versions of its big box in inner cities across the country. It has proposed four stores for Washington, D.C. -- all in predominantly minority, and most in low-income, neighborhoods.
The debate over building Walmart stores in D.C. is engaging intense public sentiment, and for good reason. While Walmart promises new jobs in a community, in reality it displaces other local businesses, leaving in question whether there is a net jobs gain; one study showed that for every retail job Walmart brought, communities lost 1.4 other jobs. In addition, Walmart passes on the cost of its low wages to taxpayers when associates and their families rely on publicly funded health care and other assistance programs.
Walmart promises D.C. 1,200 retail jobs and some 400 in the construction industry -- but the company's well-documented track record is all the evidence the affected communities need to sound the alarm and demand proof for promises.
In Chicago, when Walmart made its first foray into the urban market, it made initial oral agreements for worker and community protections -- pledges on which the big-box retailer later reneged. There was nothing in writing to force Walmart to live up to the promises that had won it a pass into the community.
The Washington Metropolitan Labor Council, aligning with community activists, environmentalists, clergy, and small businesses, has thrown down the gauntlet with a simple retort to Walmart: Respect D.C.