Welcoming Wal-Mart — on our terms
As a 22-year resident of the District, I have seen the city’s job market ebb and flow and the unemployment rate peak and dip. Through it all, I have watched a significant segment of our working population struggle to make ends meet.
Given that experience, the news that Wal-Mart wants to locate four stores in the District leaves me with mixed emotions. I am always elated at the prospect of meaningful job opportunities in the District. But the confluence of challenging economic times and Wal-Mart’s less-than-stellar track record as an employer presents a moral imperative for me, as a faith leader, to seek assurances from the company on behalf of the least, the last and the left out.
I believe that we all have a responsibility to ensure that Wal-Mart establishes itself in the District with a clear and unequivocal commitment to the working class. We can accomplish this by negotiating a “community benefits agreement” setting forth certain conditions ensuring that Wal-Mart will be a good neighbor and employer in our city. Long before any store ever opens, for instance, Wal-Mart could put in writing that it will provide its 800 or so D.C. workers with a living wage.
At a minimum, the community benefits agreement should establish that:
Wal-Mart will offer full-time, living-wage jobs with benefits.
More than half of all employees (management and non-management) will be hired from within the District.
Training programs will be provided to all workers who need them.
Ex-offenders seeking jobs will be treated fairly.
Women will be given equal employment, pay and promotional opportunities.
Stores will observe limited operating hours, to protect the small businesses that will undoubtedly be affected by Wal-Mart’s presence.
There will be genuine community input into all aspects of planning and design.
Traffic, environmental and economic studies will be carried out to alleviate any negative effects on neighborhoods.
Wal-Mart will pay all taxes and assessments in full.
Bonding will be established to ensure fulfillment of Wal-Mart’s obligations to workers and the community under the agreement.
Agreement on these points would go a long way toward addressing the concerns about the company that have been raised by labor and community leaders. Wal-Mart is no stranger to this approach; this year, it reached just such an agreement with local leaders in Chicago, which has been cited in news coverage as model for the retailer’s foray into the District.
I stand ready to welcome new jobs to the city. But I also stand ready to fight for the right of the people whom I serve to earn a living wage. For Wal-Mart, a company that measures its profits in billions of dollars, a community benefits agreement amounts to nothing less than economic justice. It could be the key to a long and successful presence in the District.
The writer is pastor of Israel Baptist Church in Northeast.
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