MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Okay, here's a riddle for you. Which American company is visited each week by nearly a third of the U.S. population, has more full-time employees than seven times the population of Iceland, brings in revenues that make it the 23rd largest economy in the world and has parking lots that, if somehow smushed all together, would take up a land mass roughly the size of Tampa, Florida?
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
If you're still scratching your head guessing, I'll tell you, it's Wal-Mart. The big box retailer that, just last week, scored a victory when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled out a massive class action suit brought on by female employees charging gender discrimination. Four Wal-Mart stores are scheduled to open in Washington, D.C. next year in Wards 4, 5, 6 and 7. And that's making one coalition of community groups in the District pretty uneasy. Courtney Collins recently attended a rally held by this coalition and brings us this story.
MS. COURTNEY COLLINS
Brandishing homemade signs that read, Wal-Mart, respect D.C. and Where's Our Seat, the District residents crowding Freedom Plaza aren't fighting to keep Wal-Mart out of D.C., they're fighting to keep Wal-Mart from taking advantage of the local economy if the retailers four proposed stores become a reality.
MR. JAMES LEBLANC
They've already saturated the suburbs and outlying areas so now they have to come into the city. Which is fine, but we just want them to come in and play fair.
James LeBlanc is with the Re-entry Network for Returning Citizens, one of more than 40 local groups in the Living Wages, Healthy Communities coalition, which is pushing Wal-Mart to pay employees more.
Right now, as it stands, they only have to pay $1 above minimum wage, which as we all know is not a living wage in D.C.
According to the coalition, a living wage in the District is about $12.50 an hour. Ensuring that employees be paid living wages is something rally attendees want to see in a community benefits agreement or C.B.A. The coalition wants Wal-Mart to sign a C.B.A. before setting up shop in the District. But even more important, says Maria Streznewski, coordinator of the D.C. Jobs Council, is making sure Wal-Mart includes the coalition when drafting the C.B.A.
MS. MARINA STREZNEWSKI
Yes, we have elected representatives and Mayor Gray and the members of the Council, but we believe that the people who actually live in the communities where the four stores are proposed really need to have their voices heard about the issues that are of specific concern to them.
Streznewski's group is another member of the coalition. She says a C.B.A. would also address issues like easing traffic around large stores and guaranteeing that D.C. residents make up a significant percentage of the workforce.
We believe that if you're going to be in the District of Columbia and you're going to be making money from the citizens of the District of Columbia, that it's fair to look first to hire residents of the District of Columbia when you need people.
As Streznewski speaks to the rally crowd, people sit at a long table symbolizing how community groups need a place at the negotiating table when it's time to talk fair business practices. Chairs reserved for Wal-Mart and Mayor Vincent Gray remain empty. So attendees write messages to the Mayor on paper plates and a delegation is dispatched to the Wilson building to deliver them.
No back door deals. We need an enforceable signed community benefits agreement.
Okay, we accept this on behalf of the Mayor.
Although Gray and his team are absent from the rally, his office has issued a statement saying the Mayor will ensure that Wal-Mart takes into consideration community interests and will work with the council to do what's in the best interest of the community and those who are concerned about Wal-Mart. In D.C., at-large council member, Vincent Orange, says he also hopes the Mayor and Council will be engaged.
MR. VINCENT ORANGE
There really needs to be a public hearing on this issue and everybody come down and have their say on both sides of the equation. We don’t need to just, you know, slip this organization into town.
Obviously, the groups at the rally appreciate the idea of a public hearing. Marina Streznewski says that kind of transparency is a step in the right direction.
I think Wal-Mart has an extraordinary opportunity in the District of Columbia if they want to step up their game. They can make more money. They can hire D.C. residents. This benefits the city, it benefits the residents, it benefits the tax space. I don't think Wal-Mart has to be all bad, but they have to do things differently than they're used to doing.
And for the coalition and people attending the rally, that all goes back to a signed enforceable community benefits agreement. Wal-Mart hasn't responded to WAMU's request for an interview or statement on the state of a C.B.A. and Streznewski says her group is in the same boat.
We have drafted a community benefits agreement, we share the draft to our community benefits agreement with Wal-Mart and we've heard nothing.
But before Wal-Mart rolls into the District and starts rolling back prices, community groups are still waiting for the respect their rally signs demand. And they say a seat at the C.B.A. negotiation table is the only place they're comfortable waiting. I'm Courtney Collins.
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