Chanting “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, living wages in DC,” approximately 100 city residents gathered outside the John Wilson Building (City Hall) Monday for a boisterous rally urging the District of Columbia City Council to require Walmart to sign an enforceable community benefits agreement before it opens four planned stores in Washington, DC.
The rally culminated Community Advocacy Day, in which workers, clergy, community activists, small businesspeople, environmentalists and other members of the Living Wages, Healthy Communities Coalition met with City Council members to urge action requiring Walmart to pay its workers a living wage, uphold their rights and give back to our communities.
“We want living wages,” said Rev. Howard Findley, assistant pastor of Florida Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, DC. “We want workers to go to work and be treated with dignity. How can you feel dignified if you go to work but still have to rely on public services to take care of your family?”
Noting that Dr. Martin Luther King often said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Rev. Findley exclaimed, “We will move toward the moral arc of justice in providing living wages and healthy communities. . . . Our fight is only beginning, but we aim to win!”
Franklin Carter, a Local 400 member who works as assistant front-end manager at the Park Road Giant, noted that unlike Walmart, union retail jobs offer the opportunity for fulfilling, stable careers. “My goal is to become a manager,” he said. “I’ll celebrate my eighth anniversary at Giant in March. I make more than $15 an hour, have health benefits and opportunities to advance in my career. I have a vested stake in the future of the company, the future of my coworkers, and my own future. Those are the kind of jobs DC needs.”
Rebecca Mills of Ward Four Thrives, who lives just one-tenth of a mile from a proposed new store, said, “We don’t want Georgia Avenue to turn into a sea of abandoned buildings with a Walmart at its center. I don’t want my neighborhood’s character to be defined by Walmart. We want the City Council to back the Living Wages, Healthy Communities Coalition and make Walmart sign an enforceable community benefits agreement.”
Chris Weiss of the DC Environmental Network, Ward 4B05 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Brenda Speaks, and Yes! Organic Market owner Gary Cha also urged City Council action at the rally. Cha spoke of the concerns of area small businesses that they could be forced to close if Walmart comes into DC, citing studies showing that for every job Walmart creates, it causes the loss of 1.5 to 2 jobs, on average, at other businesses.
Rally participants emerged energized for action and pledged to step up the pressure on the City Council. They and others will continue canvassing DC neighborhoods to build even stronger support for requiring Walmart to sign an enforceable community benefits agreement before it is permitted to enter the DC market.
Press Links from Community Advocacy Day