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 — $4.25 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.
Mayor Vincent Gray, a Democrat, can veto the measure, but he has not said yet whether he will do so.
Community advocates fighting the company in other cities said they are looking to the high-profile Washington effort as a sign of encouragement.
“What we’re seeing in D.C., it’s great,” said Aiha Nguyen, a director at the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, which is part of a coalition suing Los Angeles over plans to open a Wal-Mart in historic Chinatown. “All over the country, local areas are saying, ‘We’re going to fight back because we feel like we deserve more.’”
“This is the capital city of the United States, and if it chooses to do something, people will notice,” said Damon Silvers, director of policy and special counsel at the AFL-CIO.
But Wal-Mart supporters portrayed the situation in D.C. as one of a kind and said it is unlikely to be cloned by cities around the country.
“The showdown makes for an interesting news hook,” said Michael Saltsman, research director at the business-funded Employment Policies Institute. “I think this situation is unique because this legislation is being targeted at one specific employer and the employer has pushed back.”
“This fight in D.C. is being driven by local D.C. politics more than a national agenda,” David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation, told POLITICO.
Originally posted at Politico.