In an effort to boost its presence in major cities across the country, the nation’s largest retailer has set its sights on the nation’s capital, recently announcing plans to open four stores in wards 4, 5,7 and 8 by late 2012.
Wal-Mart’s decision to come to Washington, D.C. resulted from a poll of about 800 local residents, of whom about three-fourths favored Wal-Mart coming to the city.
But while the stores will provide an estimated $10 million each year to the District’s tax revenues, help reduce burgeoning unemployment rates in wards 7 and 8, and give residents much-needed options in retailers that carry a variety of consumer goods, Wal-Mart’s plans has spawned the ire of some individuals and groups who believe the retail giant’s move could prove disastrous—particularly for smaller retailers who will have to compete with Wal-Mart’s low prices and eventually be edged out of business. And a larger concern revolves around who will get the new jobs and what they will be paid.
According to Hilary Shelton, director of advocacy for the NAACP’s Washington bureau, community groups have been engaged in discussions to ensure Wal-Mart considers the economics involved.
“They’ve been talking about the economic situation as far as making sure Wal-Mart pays its new workers a competitive living wage,” Shelton told the AFRO. “Looking back to a few years ago when several lawsuits were successfully filed against the chain over its failure to provide adequate health care benefits to employees – who mostly came from underprivileged backgrounds – the groups want to see that Wal-Mart keeps good on its commitment to be a good community partner,” Shelton continued. “We are excited about Wal-Mart coming to the District, but we want to make sure they offer good pay and benefits and don’t exploit its workers with incomes they’re barely able to survive on.”
Wendy Weiner, organizing director for Union Local 400, said during a recent interview on the “Kojo Nnamdi (radio) Show” that her group is concerned with Wal-Mart possibly exploiting workers. “We’ve seen in the last 20 years where it used to be that could go to a retail store and get really good jobs so that people could support themselves and their families,” Weiner said. “But that’s now changed dramatically in large part because of Wal-Mart being the largest retailer in the country.”
According to Weiner, good jobs as well as healthy, fresh foods are needed in the District. “So if Wal-Mart is coming it should make a commitment to provide jobs for D.C. residents ,” Weiner said.
In its expansion to the District, Wal-Mart intends to create 1,200 retail jobs and 400 temporary construction jobs.
The massive chain currently employs more than 600 D.C. residents in stores in the nearby suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, and reported that last year, Washingtonians spent more than $41 million at those stores.
Wal-Mart spokesman Henry Jordan said in a statement that the retailer looked forward to presenting its new hires with a competitive wage that would be equal to or better than those offered by unionized grocers. Jordan also noted Wal-Mart’s commitment to expanding access to affordable and healthy food to underserved areas in Southeast.
“D.C. residents want more convenient access to quality jobs and affordable groceries,” Jordan said. “We want to be part of the solution and look forward to building even more support for what our brand can deliver.”
Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry said residents there have been waiting for the chance to have variety retailer among them.
“First of all we want a Wal-Mart,” Barry said, adding that with retail options in his ward being virtually non-existent, residents have no choice than to travel to Maryland and Virginia to shop. “We don’t have a major department store or any major consumer items,” said Barry, “and people east of the river deserve to have a major store with varied consumer products in it.”
But Barry said that more importantly, Ward 8 – where the unemployment rate at 28 percent is the highest in the city – needs the additional jobs.