The Washington, D.C. city council voted in favor of a bill last month, by an 8-5 margin, to institute a living wage of $12.50 for employees of corporate retailers “with sales of $1 billion or more and operating in spaces 75,000 square feet or larger.” Not only would the new wage give newfound purchasing power to workers and families who desperately need it, it would stimulate the economy by increasing demand for goods, and give much needed relief to people who are struggling to get by on the current minimum wage. It would be a dream come true to workers across the district. But one big slave wage corporation is threatening the bill.
Corporate giant Walmart is threatening to cancel at least half of its plans to put stores in areas across the district, including one that just so happens to be near the home of D.C. mayor, Vincent Gray, who apparently really wants those cheaply-made and cheaply-priced products, even if he has to sacrifice the prosperity of the people to get them.
According to the Washington Post:
The world’s largest retailer delivered an ultimatum to District lawmakers Tuesday, telling them less than 24 hours before a decisive vote that at least three planned Wal-Marts will not open in the city if a super-minimum-wage proposal becomes law.
A team of Wal-Mart officials and lobbyists, including a high-level executive from the mega-
retailer’s Arkansas headquarters, walked the halls of the John A. Wilson Building on Tuesday afternoon, delivering the news to D.C. Council members.
The company’s hardball tactics come out of a well-worn playbook that involves successfully using Wal-Mart’s leverage in the form of jobs and low-priced goods to fend off legislation and regulation that could cut into its profits and set precedent in other potential markets.
Walmart currently rakes in over $15 billion in profits each year and pays its employees so little that they only get by because of federal welfare programs such as food stamps. The outrageous greed demonstrated by the Wal-Mart heirs would have Sam Walton spinning in his grave. There’s no reason to deny workers $12.50 an hour when your profits are so great. One study conducted by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education found that Walmart could easily pay its employees the wage D.C. wants to institute and still be highly profitable enough to keep its corporate executives fat and rich. But the greed of these executives keeps wages too low, and puts added stress on taxpayers who have to pick up the tab to help its struggling workers get by.
What’s the point of having a job if you’re being paid so little that the government has to help you out? That’s apparently the price people pay for getting a job at Walmart. The problem is that a job at Walmart may be the only job some people can get. I’m sure kids don’t tell their parents that when they grow up they want to be a Walmart employee. The hours stink, healthcare isn’t provided, and the pay is scant. That may be enough for elderly workers who just work there to keep busy while drawing pensions from their former careers or for students who just want a summer job, but it’s definitely not enough for younger folks with children to care for and bills to pay. The only reason Walmart is able to offer such low prices is because they pay their workers so little and have a majority of their products manufactured in China and other foreign nations. In fact, if Walmart were a country it would be China’s seventh largest trading partner.
Clearly, Walmart is a business empire. But no empire that treats its people like crap lasts for very long. Eventually, greed topples them. Walmart is nothing without the workers that toil day in and day out in the thousands of stores across the country. Imagine if all of these workers unionized? They would wield incredible bargaining power. But Walmart is staunchly anti-union and is willing to shutter stores whose employees have organized like they did in 2005. This makes organizing a union nearly impossible, which means workers really have no power to bargain with their employers. This makes Walmart workers the equivalent of modern-day serfs.
And rather than helping a local economy thrive, Walmart is more likely to harm small businesses in its vicinity since there is no way a small business can compete with the incredibly cheap prices Walmart offers. If a small business wants to survive, they really would have to offer a product Walmart doesn’t and, let’s be honest, there isn’t much Walmart doesn’t sell. That means businesses go out of business and Walmart reaps the rewards.
If the D.C. mayor and city council are smart, they’ll pass the living wage bill and stand up to the strong-arming that Walmart is employing to get its way. Chicago and New York City have already surrendered to similar threats from Walmart brass. If D.C. surrenders, how can any city, state, or federal government ever institute a living wage in the future if Walmart or any other corporation can just make a threat and kill the legislation? Such bully tactics hurt the economy and the welfare of the general public that relies on decent and fair wages to prosper. Wages should be going up, not down. And any super wealthy corporation that disagrees shouldn’t be allowed to operate on American soil.
“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level – I mean the wages of decent living.”
~Franklin D. Roosevelt