By MacKenzie Baris, DC Jobs with Justice
In 2005, when Walmart made overtures to open a store in Northeast DC it was met with a flurry of opposition – unions decried Walmart’s low wages and union-busting record, women’s groups pointed out the class action lawsuit against them for discrimination, and local businesses warned that the mega-store would push them out. “No Walmart” signs blossomed around ward 5, community meetings were held, and public letters issued to then-Councilmember Vincent Orange. Walmart quietly withdrew, and no one tried very hard to stop them.
But that was 2005, when Walmart was corporate-enemy number one, facing campaigns in Chicago and Englewood and earning scrutiny from all corners, from a cover story in Coop America Quarterly to a report by Good Jobs First to mocking on the The Daily Show. But since then some things have changed. DC’s unemployment has risen steadily and many neighborhoods continue to crave retail and grocery options. Meanwhile, the retail giant has been undergoing some changes of its own, rolling out a scaled back “Neighborhood Market” model more suited to urban areas and working harder to appease community opponents through grant programs and community agreements.
Recent news that Walmart is again looking at the District forces the question once again: would Walmart be good for the District? The newly formed Coalition for Living Wages and Healthy Communities, which is bringing together workers’ rights organizations with churches, community, and environmental groups, wants to offer an answer: maybe.
A Walmart opening with its usual part-time, minimum wage, no benefits job portfolio might get some residents working, but not without a cost to taxpayers, who would still foot the bill for employees likely to qualify for the DC Healthcare Alliance, Child Care Subsidy program, and possibly even rent subsidies and food stamps. Similarly, a Walmart would add options to a retail-starved part of ward 5, 7, or 8, but perhaps at the cost of pushing out existing small businesses or grocery stores in other areas, as they’ve done around their Capitol Plaza store in Landover. And would a Walmart in DC contribute to clean air by reducing driving by DC residents who used to head outside the city to shop there, or would it just augment traffic woes within the city and create another big parking lot and funnel dirty runoff into the river?
The Coalition for Living Wages and Healthy Communities proposes that we come together to name our concerns about Walmart, and name the conditions under which we think the infamous chain could be a healthy part of our community. If Walmart can meet the standards we set for good jobs, environmental health, fairness in employment, sound planning, and positive net impact on our local economy, we should be prepared to say “welcome!” If not, then we should expect our elected officials to stand behind us in saying “thanks, but no thanks.” Either way, we know we’re strongest when we stand together as a united community, and thus invite local environmental groups to join the coalition and be part of developing the set of standards we’ll expect Walmart to meet. To talk more, give me a call at 202-974-8224 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
The DC Environmental Network (DCEN) is working with the Living Wage and Healthy Communities Coalition to develop a Community Benefits Agreement with Walmart that will hopefully result in development that not only protects but enhances the quality of our local environment. We believe being part of this broad coalition is a good model for creating sustainable communities. (This model was successfully used to protect environmental, housing and job standards for all new developments along the Anacostia River a few years back.) We are hoping our efforts here will influence how the District approaches growth and development throughout the city. We invite the environmental community to be part of our coordinated efforts.