If we want to get rid of feudal lords in America, as I wrote about yesterday, we should start with Wal-Mart. Believe me, this won’t be an easy task. The smiles that Wal-Mart features in their advertisements are a facade, hiding pure ruthlessness and greed.
If Wal-Mart was forced to pay their employees an actual living wage, they would undoubtedly have to raise their “everyday low prices.” Their low priced business model is based on the assumption of unrequited servitude by their employees, ergo paying decent wages means they lose their competitive edge which they’ve demonstrated time and again they will do anything to retain.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that the company is now threatening to pull out of the District of Columbia if the city passes a law requiring big box stores of at least 75,000 square feet and corporate sales of over a billion dollars to pay employees at least $12.50 per hour, or $4.25 above the city’s current minimum wage.
This bill exists mainly to address the Wal-Mart wage problem. The proposal would apply to other retailers, such as Home Depot, Costco and Macy’s, but there’s a grandfather clause built in and, more importantly, an exception for unionized businesses. The bill would mainly effect Wal-Mart, which is set to open six stores in the city employing 1,800 people.
It seems clear to me that if Wal-Mart wants to do business in the nation’s capital, the prudent move would be to let the union organizers in and negotiate a contract that would bring pay rates somewhere between the $8.25 current minimum wage and the $12.50 per hour the new law would demand. Indeed, if I’m reading between the lines properly, that would seem to be the intention of this law.
However, unionizing or paying higher wages in DC is not in the Wal-Mart playbook. That would open the door for unionizing and higher wages elsewhere, which would lead to “everyday higher prices” and the loss of practically the only reason Walmart stores exist. Seriously, when have you ever heard anyone exclaim that they love going to Walmart.
Wal-Mart’s threat to not follow through on planned new stores and to, perhaps, pull out of DC altogether came less than twenty-four hours before a planned key vote on the proposal. The news was handed to the D.C. Council in person by what the Post referred to as “A team of Wal-Mart officials and lobbyists, including a high-level executive from the megaretailer’s Arkansas headquarters.”
Again, this bomb was dropped just before a key vote. Up until then there had been no indication that Wal-Mart would quit their plans to develop new stores planned for DC and take their worthless jobs back home to Arkansas. Democrat Mayor Vincent C. Gray has already said he’s now considering vetoing the bill and may not seek reelection.
Wal-Mart has been down this road before. They know exactly what they’re doing. Seven years ago when the Chicago City Council passed a similar bill, the company threatened to scrap plans to open several Chicago stores. Subsequently, Mayor Daley vetoed the bill, which the Council was unable to override.
These threats shouldn’t matter. Washington officials need to go ahead and make this proposal a law. It shouldn’t matter that some council members have lobbied to get a Walmart store in their districts because jobs are needed. Giving poor people jobs that are guaranteed to keep them in poverty isn’t helping them at all.
It’s unconscionable that the largest employer in the country doesn’t pay a living wage to most of it’s employees. It’s unconscionable that we continue to let this happen.
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