Saturday, August 10, 2013

DC $12.50 living wage, & Walmart blackmail

Guest Post by Perry Redd, with introduction by G. Lee Aikin
DC Statehood Green Party

DC Statehood Green Party activist, Perry Redd, and candidate this April 2013 for At Large City Council makes a compelling case for our need to pass a “Living Wage” law. Your active help is needed to make sure this worthwhile law is actually put into place.  Although Walmart has made this legislation about them by threatening the Council the day before the Council voted on this measure, it requires various very large retail business to pay a living wage of $12.50 an hour.

As several DC Walmarts open up, it is well to consider some political history as the 2014 political season begins.   This detailed July 8, 2011 article by Lydia DePillis titled, The Selling of Walmart: How the world's biggest retailer won over D.C. without a fight can be read at:
The major players, several now running for Mayor, and their activities are described in great detail, and are especially worth examining before entering the voting booth.

Two of the three Walmarts already under construction are in Ward 4, where Mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser has no doubt facilitated their placement. Whether these Walmarts will harm surrounding businesses and employment, and whether they will harm or help her candidacy remains to be seen. Unfortunately, the three that have not yet been begun are in areas where some of them might actually be desirable. However, given the stated goals of Walmart Realty, it makes more sense for them to establish themselves in higher end more rapidly developing areas of the city where if they do force other businesses to fail they can follow through on their plans to acquire land cheap and build or sell high. Below is a statement of their plans and intentions by Walmart Realty from their web site. 


Welcome To Walmart Realty
Walmart Realty, a division of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., is a real estate company that offers many development opportunities nationwide. Walmart Realty concentrates on commercial real estate located in or around our current and former locations. Walmart Realty's mission is to find businesses to open in our former stores and clubs and to locate in available property around our stores. At Walmart Realty, we believe we have a responsibility to work with communities to find a use that generates economic growth and opportunity. We work at the local level with local brokers, economic development officials and elected leaders to find partners that best suits the needs of each local community.

It is easy to see that Walmart is giving emphasis to their former stores and location and their use of elected officials. There are numerous reports to the effect that Walmart engages in practices like lowering their prices so much that neighboring businesses cannot compete, fail, and are available to be bought up by Walmart. They don't even care if their stores fail, as then that location can be combined with other nearby acquisitions for bigger more profitable land deals and development. Naturally if they have to pay a living wage of $12.50, as 8 out of the 13 members of the DC Council have voted, this strategy will be much more costly and probably not economically cost effective.  

Now that they have already begun construction in the most likely places for future neighborhood development, they were quick to threaten to cancel their plans for other areas like the mall near Mayor Gray's home and Yvette Alexander's Ward 7.  Muriel Bowser is one of the Council members voting against the living wage as is Mayoral candidate Tommy Wells (Ward 6). Other NO votes are Mary Cheh (Ward 3), Yvette Alexander (Ward 7), and David Catania (At Large).  Mayoral candidate Jack Evans (Ward 2) supports the living wage.

[Jan. 2016]  Well, Walmart has done it.  Pulled out of building a promised store or two in Ward 7, and people are angry.  When you read the above statement by Walmart Realty it is easy to see why they did.  While upper Georgia is thriving, and has a number of small businesses in an entire block of 2 story buildings, Ward 7 continues to be troubled.  Also, since the Skyland project already includes housing units and other stores, there is no guarantee for Walmart that they could force other businesses to fail and build and develop their own market rate housing.            
     When I went to see Georgia Ave. Walmart, I was amazed to see the huge amount of parking there.  Then, I realized, that if they are going to put 4 or 5 stories of market rate housing above that store, they will need the extra parking for the residents/owners.
     The LA TIMES points out how big commerce has treated other cities and says that when "communities...offer a big commercial entity the sun, moon and stars but don't secure a guarantee of performance" getting shafted is not uncommon.  In other words "When you make a deal, get everything--everything--down on paper."   

During the controvery other stores were mentioned as possible alternatives to Walmart.  These included Wegman's and Kroger.  Now [May 2014] an interesting survey has been made regarding popularity and quality of grocery and super stores, listing the top 30.  While Walmart is included primarily because of low prices and variety of goods sold, both Wegman's and Kroger are rated higher.  Tops is Trader Joe followed by Whole Foods, although these might not be the most affordable for lower income families.  Keep in mind that there will be more controversy over retail as planning moves forward for Walter Reed and McMillan Reservoir.

Mayor Gray has yet to weight in by either vetoing or allowing this legislation to move forward. If he vetoes, then one more vote will be needed to override the veto. He was hoping for a major store at the Skyland project near his home. Please contact the mayor and any NO voter and urge them to ensure a living wage for our workers. Of course, it also helps to thank those who support our low income workers.  [The Mayor subsequently vetoed the bill.  When it went back to the Council, Anita Bonds changed her yes vote to a NO vote.  Angry protesters declared they will remember who did not support workers on election day.  Those not deserving election support in 2014 based on this vote include Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Mary Cheh, Anita Bonds, and David Catania.  Jack Evans, Jim Graham and Kenyon McDuffie maintained their earlier support for the $12.50 pay scale.  Here are articles from a number of sources detailing these actions.]

There was major turmoil over Walmart's original plan to build 6 Walmart stores in DC, and frankly I didn't see how more than one or two would succeed commercially.  Of course, this was before I saw the "Walmart Realty" description above and read between the lines.  This followed previous outrage over the Walton (Walmart's) Foundation funded notorious IFF Report.  Even before the IFF Report was published, parents and communities were concerned.  Our local activist organization, Empower DC, was quick to produce a chart showing which schools faced closure and repurposing (public Charter Schools have first dibs on such schools.  The great majority of such closures were planned for Wards 7 and 8.  Now a few years later in 2016, here is a criticism of charter schools being closed because they are not doing much better.

The Walmart Self-Esteem Attack
By, Perry Redd,

You may have heard the latest Walmart saga. Walmart is threatening to pull three of its planned store locations from its newly touted DC market. The District of Columbia is in a controversial position: give in to Walmart, as the retail giant’s leadership is refusing to pay potential low-end workers a "living wage," or stand with the potential working class who are poised to become Walmart’s "poster child" for its successful entry into urban markets. Our mayor’s knees are a-wobbling. The term "living wage" is relatively new in the District of Columbia. 

 During our recent Special Election for an At-Large seat, I was compelled to initiate and elevate the topic of the need for a living wage in DC.  I brought that quest to the table primarily for three reasons: 1) in the fourth most expensive city to live in America, a working-class Joe has to earn above the poverty level to survive; 2) Walmart is infamous for low-balling its workers on wages, with the indirect effect of depressing wages for neighboring merchants and workers; I don’t want that to happen here; and 3) I find it immoral for the vast majority of those low-end workers — who are Black with the highest unemployment rate in the area — to work for poverty wages.

Once I pounded the concept of paying DC workers fair and life-sustaining wages — which, by the way, in DC is a minimum $14.50/hour — all but one of my opponents in the At-Large race eventually jumped on the bandwagon.  Now, a living wage is one of DC’s hottest topics, and rightfully so.  Walmart threatened to pull out of DC because our council voted to stand with — and for — the people.  The 8-5 vote was somewhat surprising since our Council has repeatedly kowtowed to developers and corporate interests.  I am of the mind that Walmart should walk anyway, but if it’s going to operate in DC, then Walmart needs to pay responsible wages, and even more, quit threatening DC. It’s disrespectful to our working class.

Walmart and DC politics-watchers are eagerly awaiting Mayor Gray’s decision either to stand with Walmart by vetoing the bill or stand with the people and sign the bill.  The working class in this city has suffered great economic pain though our city enjoys successive years of budget surpluses.  I hear the disinformation agents opining to DC constituents by framing the argument against Walmart as one that "singles out Walmart," rather than requiring other large-volume retailers to comply with the proposed law.  How appalling, but I am not surprised to learn that some in our city’s media establishment seem very willing to do Walmart’s bidding by asserting that same mantra: this new bill picks on Walmart.  

It is true that Walmart is the chief motivation behind the bill.  It has a sordid history of hurting workers and neighboring businesses in the communities where its stores locate.  Walmart’s wages are so low that many of its workers rely on food stamps and other government aid to make ends meet.  In just one Walmart Super Center in Wisconsin, workers had the unintended impact of costing state taxpayers nearly an extra $1 million — the taxpayers cost to subsidize Walmart’s low wages and scant, if any, benefits.  (Most Walmart workers are part-time, making them ineligible for company benefits.)

Walmart has long been criticized for its pattern of paying wages that force its workers to enroll in public assistance programs.  The recent study in Wisconsin gives credence to such criticism.  The company had disproportionately more workers enrolled in the state’s public health care program during the 4th quarter of last year than any other Wisconsin employer

A study by the Center for Labor Research and Education at University of California-Berkley found that the opening of the first Walmart store in any county in the USA where there previously had been none depressed the wages of general merchandise employees by 1 percent, and of grocery store employees by 1.5 percent.  The counties surveyed did not include those that encompassed the largest east and west coast cities, where the gap between Walmart’s wages and those of other supermarkets is greatest.  

The bill in DC, the Large Retailer Accountability Act, doesn’t single out Walmart at all; it does justice by making large retailers socially responsible corporate citizens.  The bill would require "large retailers" — defined as businesses operating an indoor store of at least 75,000 square feet and whose corporate parent has annual sales of at least $1 billion — to pay wages no lower than $12.50 per hour without benefits, or $11.75 with benefits.  That "living wage" would be indexed to the local consumer price index every year.

Now, let’s be clear, I don’t consider $12.50 an hour a "living wage" in the least for DC; that number should be at least $14.50 an hour for a single person living in the District of Columbia.  This is simply masterful framing.  You see, our city’s median income is upwards of $63,000 a year, and $86,600 in the immediate surrounding area.  An hourly wage of $12.50 is nothing close to a living wage in the District of Columbia.  As some of you may recall, I proposed a "living wage" of $14.50/hour during the REDD4Council campaign for DC council.  Why so high?  Well, it’s really not "so high."  For one to make $12.50/hour (with no benefits, no less) is to gross $1,080/week (taxes: Federal $181, Social Security $67, Medicare $15 and DC $69) for a take-home pay of $747.25/week or $2,988/month.  This is before utilities, transportation and/or food — or a child!

The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom unit as of June this year and within ten miles of Washington, DC, is $1,813.  One-bedroom apartments in Washington rent for $1,617 a month on average and two-bedroom apartment rents average $2,035.  That equates to 60 percent of that $2,988/month salary!  How can one live on that purported "living wage?" A person cannot.  Thus, we must push back against the idea of this weak-kneed proposal that’s framed as a "living wage."  But it is what it is, for now.

To the point about Walmart: Walmart is threatening to pull out of DC.  I say, "Bye!"  Some of us told thousands of you that Walmart cares nothing for people — only profits.  Now, they’ve resorted to using the Black community as bargaining chips — by threatening to halt construction of three of its six — yeah, six — proposed stores in heavily Black communities where unemployment is highest and shopping opportunities the poorest.

Walmart’s public outcry is indicative of a spreading disease.  You’ve got to halt the cancer before it spreads.  Walmart shouldn’t even be in DC.  Let alone six stores!  Other large retailers would willingly step in if this devilish corporation (oh, "Corporations are people my friend!") pulls out.  Let’s not allow this threat to attack our self-esteem.  We don’t have to settle for less.

[Remember, contact your Council members and the Mayor!  GLA]


  1. Our United States economy is in great shape.

    In real dollars our Gross Domestic Product has grown at a geometric exponential rate and has about *tripled* in size in the near last 45 years.

    Going from $6 trillion dollars i the year 1970 to just under $18 trillion dollars today.

    In that same time frame our American labor force has only grown in a linear fashion by ⅓rd, going from 100 million wage earners in the year 1970, to 150 million American wage earners today,

    By the most rudimentary, elementary school math had our American worker wages not been decoupled from productivity gains a generation ago would be between $20 dollars to $25 dollars an hour today.

    This is both a DC and national issue.

  2. The disparity in lower level wage and top 1% wages has expanded dangerously. See my 11-18-13 post on saving the middle class for examples and details, and an interesting chart showing the very rich pay the least taxes.