Politico, July 16, 2013
The success — so far — of the anti-Wal-Mart effort that is unfolding just blocks from the Capitol is providing a legislative road map and psychological boost to opponents of big-box stores around the country.
The battle over Wal-Mart in D.C. last week quickly rose to the national stage, with major media attention and national organizations weighing in on what is often typically seen as a local issue. And the fight caught the eye of lawmakers on the Hill who are wary of what one official described as the “audacity” of this latest anti-Wal-Mart crusade.
What’s playing out in the nation’s capital has all the hallmarks of a classic union vs. business confrontation — with labor organizations, backed by their Democratic allies in office, pulling out all the stops to block what they view as a fiercely anti-union company that victimizes its workers with low wages during tough economic times. On the other side, industry supporters see the D.C. Council’s move against Wal-Mart as yet another example of short-sighted, self-interested unions and elected officials blocking job creation for those who need it most in blighted areas that deserve it most.
Bertha Lewis, the former head of ACORN and a leader of the push against Wal-Mart, predicted that more cities will begin using the D.C. City Council’s approach — a “living wage” bill aimed at large retailers, which passed last week — to lower the boom on Wal-Mart and other stores like it.
“I do think this is national thing — you’re going to see more and more cities use this strategy and tactic to combat this,” she told POLITICO. “Wal-Mart has an urban plan, so they have to get into the inner city and they have targeted neighborhoods of color, poor neighborhoods.”
D.C.’s move represented a revival of a tactic tried years ago in Chicago — unsuccessfully — in the long-running battle of unions and municipalities against the Arkansas-based company. Previously, the stop-Wal-Mart efforts had generally focused on using zoning regulations and lawsuits to halt the big-box retailer in its tracks.
Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo told POLITICO the company has canceled plans for three sites in D.C. and is on the brink of pulling out of three remaining locations in Washington after the City Council passed the “Large Retailer Accountability Act” last week. The bill would force those retailers occupying more than 75,000 square feet and with sales of at least $1 billion to pay a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour — $3.25 more than D.C.’s minimum wage of $8.25. Critics of the legislation say the bill was written specifically to target Wal-Mart because it has exceptions for large stores already in D.C. like Safeway and Giant.
Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at the anti-big box store Institute for Local Self Reliance, said the D.C. and other recent anti-Wal-Mart pushes have been “by far the most extensive and effective labor organizing effort against Wal-Mart that’s ever happened.”
Restivo, however, downplayed the national significance of the D.C. Council’s move, saying the same spotlight was put on Chicago in 2006 when the City Council there passed a similar living wage bill to keep Wal-Mart out. It was ultimately vetoed by then-Mayor Richard Daley, and Wal-Mart is now set to open its ninth location in Chicago.