Living Wages, Healthy Communities Coalition Tries to Deliver Proposal to Negotiate Community Benefits with Walmart; Company Bars Entry
Chanting “put it in writing,” members of the Living Wages, Healthy Communities Coalition tried to serve Walmart a letter and proposal offering, for the first time, to negotiate a citywide agreement with the company to provide enforceable community benefits if the global retailer expands to the District of Columbia.
However, when coalition representatives went to hand-deliver the proposal to Walmart’s Washington, DC, offices, they were barred by security guards from entering the building, apparently on Walmart’s orders.
“Today, we upped the ante,” said Dr. Jarvis Johnson, pastor of the New Prospect Family Praise and Worship Centers.
“Our coalition has presented a framework to start negotiations to put community benefits in writing and make them stick,” Dr. Johnson said at a rally held outside Walmart’s office building. “We know they were there, but they decided not to come out and receive our letter. It’s a shame when people say they want to be a good neighbor, but don’t actually want to meet their neighbors.”
“We are here today not to bash Walmart,” said Marina Streznewski, coordinator of the DC Jobs Council. “We’re here to challenge Walmart to live up to its PR. Put it in writing!”
“If Walmart negotiates in good faith and signs an enforceable community benefits agreement, that will be a win-win-win outcome,” Streznewski said. Workers would win, our communities would win, and Walmart would win, too.”
Ernestine Bassett has worked as a cashier at Walmart’s Laurel, Md., store for four years. Her starting wage was $9.50 per hour and today, it’s just $10.70 per hour. “You cannot raise a family on what Walmart pays,” she said. “The majority of workers hold a second job just to make ends meet. Management needs to be more respectful to their employees. They talk down to you in front of customers. They even make you ask permission to go to the ladies’ room, like we’re schoolchildren.
“I keep hearing about $12 an hour,” Bassett said. “Put it in writing.”
“We’re here to let Walmart know we mean business,” said Rev. Howard Findley, assistant pastor of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church. “It is their moral obligation to pay decent wages, and provide good health benefits and retirement security. If Walmart can get rich, the people who work there should do well, too.”
The executive summary of the Respect DC Agreement lays out the principles for a citywide, enforceable community benefits agreement, which include:
- Full-time, living wage jobs
- Paying its fair share of taxes
- Local hiring and training commitments targeted to DC residents
- Protection for our residents and small businesses
- Fairness in hiring rehabilitated ex-offenders
- Equal pay for all workers regardless of gender or race
- Green building standards
- And more
The Coalition developed this proposal over the past few months after talking to and listening to the community express concerns about Walmart’s aggressive expansion plans for DC. “Right about now, people won’t take another bully joining Congress in disrespecting our voices and our priorities,” said Dr. Johnson, who noted Walmart’s reputation for playing by its own rules.
“DC deserves better than that,” Dr. Johnson declared. “We can’t let Walmart shortchange our communities. That’s why the community benefits argument is winning in conversations around the city.”
Dr. Johnson said the Coalition will continue to engage residents, ANCs, civic associations, business owners, the faith community and elected leaders before finalizing an enforceable agreement for Walmart and the Coalition to negotiate and sign.
“Walmart has a golden opportunity,” Dr. Johnson said, “to step up and embrace this path to genuine partnership with DC communities.” At the same time, he noted that Walmart has a track record of poverty jobs and notably failing to fulfill voluntary, verbal commitments it has made to other communities.
Also speaking at the rally were James LeBlanc of the Re-entry Network for Returning Citizens, who urged Walmart to guarantee equal access to worker training programs for DC residents who have paid their debt to society, and Delese Harvey of Wider Opportunities for Women, who challenged Walmart to offer its workers a path to economic security.
The rally was held in conjunction with other similar events in Boston; New York City; Philadelphia; Chicago; Seattle; San Francisco; and Los Angeles led by community coalitions who are challenging the entry or expansion of Walmart in their cities.
Current members of the Living Wages, Healthy Communities Coalition are the DC Employment Justice Center, DC Environmental Network, DC Federation of Civic Associations, DC Jobs with Justice, DC Jobs Council, First Rising Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Florida Avenue Baptist Church, Gray Panthers of Metro Washington, Israel Baptist Church, Jews United for Justice, Metro Washington Labor Council, New Prospect Family Life Center, ONE DC, Pennsylvania Ave Baptist Church, Restaurant Opportunities Center of DC, UFCW Local 400, Ward Four Thrives, and Wider Opportunities for Women, A Philip Randolph Institute, American Friends Service Committee, DC Peace and Economic Justice Program, Re-Entry Network for Returning Citizens, Clean Water Action.