Wal-Mart to DC: We'll Skip Town Before We Pay a Living Wage

Wal-Mart threatens to abandon Washington DC if living wage bill passes. Communities say 'good riddance!'

Wal-Mart executives claim they will slam the brakes on plans to open six mega-stores in Washington DC if the city council passes a living-wage bill that would force billion dollar retailers to pay workers at least $12.50 an hour.

Wal-Mart officials spread the 'threat' in a massive Tuesday public relations blitz, reaching out to city council members and publishing an op-ed in the Washington Post.

The PR maneuvers appear to be timed to influence a Washington DC city council final decision Wednesday on a 'living-wage' bill that would mandate that city retailers--with buildings greater than 75,000 square feet and with corporate sales over one billion dollars--pay an elevated minimum wage.

Wal-Mart general manager Alex Barren charged that the local bill is "discriminatory" and "discourages investment in Washington."

Community groups scoff at the large multinational's public tantrum at the elevated minimum wage, in a city beset with severe unemployment, poverty and wage inequality. Parisa Norouzi, Executive Director of community organization Empower DC, told Common Dreams:

We know that the cost of housing in this city has become so high that someone working at minimum wage would have to work 140 hours a week to afford the average market rate unit. They would have to earn $29 an hour to afford average rate at 40 hours. Pay of $12.50 is very little to ask, in context of how much [Wal-Mart] would earn and draw out of our city to send to their corporate headquarters.

Many Washington DC community members and workers--who deride the company's discriminatory employment and development practices and atrocious human rights record--would be happy to see the retailer go.

"We have opposed Wal-Mart from beginning because of their poverty wages, horrible healthcare, efforts to prevent workers from organizing and unionizing, and because of the Walden family's dedication to using money and power to influence other kinds of harmful policies like promoting privatization of public education," Norouzi declared.

"Furthermore, the building of six Wal-Mart stores would spell out the end of black-owned businesses in our city."

A large coalition of unions and community organizations along with Washington DC Jobs with Justice have been mobilizing for months to win a boosted minimum wage. Some local organizers suspect Wal-Mart is bluffing and worry that local city officials with close ties to the multinational corporation will undermine the living wage bill.


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