Who's Against Walmart in D.C.?

Not as Many as You Might Think

The campaign against Walmart’s entry into D.C. is greatly exaggerated. Though opponents have been vocal, their numbers are small.

Not long after the Tucson shootings and the subsequent criticism of an image from Sarah Palin’s SarahPAC showing crosshairs on congressional districts, Walmart-Free D.C. slapped up posters around the city with the retailer’s smiley-face logo in a bullseye, calling on opponents to march on Foulger-Pratt developer Dick Knapp’s home.

The group, which operates under the slogan “No Walmart, No Compromise,” says it is “not interested in negotiating the terms” of Walmart’s coming to the District, saying the chain always has a “harmful impact... around the country, and around the world.”

There’s a lot to criticize about Walmart. The company operates under the slogan “Save money, live better,” but the second part doesn’t always apply to its employees. There’s a reason why the retailer is able to offer such low prices, and it’s because it keeps pay low -- about 20 percent less than that of the average retail employee -- and resists unionization.

Workers complain of being coerced into working unpaid overtime, and the company has faced charges of employing illegal immigrants and violating child labor laws.

But the issue is reminiscent of the kerfuffle over the construction of the DCUSA complex in Columbia Heights a few years ago. Some locals complained about opening a mall full of major chains that cut out local businesses.

But DCUSA was built on a lot that had been vacant for decades. Something was better than nothing.

D.C.’s official unemployment rate tops 10 percent, and in parts of the city, more than one in four are unemployed. Walmart is planning at least four D.C. stores, one of them on the site of a closed car dealership. Walmart will bring thousands of jobs -- not great jobs, true, but jobs nonetheless.

The actual “march” on Knapp’s Woodley Park home was less militant than the posters suggested. Only about 25 people turned out, and they peacefully milled around for about half an hour, chanting a muddled message including the rhyme, “Walmart’s no good; they’re anti-statehood!”

A larger crowd is expected for an “anti-Walmart rally” outside the Wilson Building today, but the Living Wages Healthy Communities Coalition isn’t actually trying to keep Walmart out.

Rather, the union-backed coalition is calling on Walmart to offer “full-time living wage jobs with good benefits.”

But that group has its problems, too. It claimed Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander would take part. But Alexander represents one of the areas of the city with the highest unemployment.

In fact, Alexander backs Walmart’s entry, and hopes for at least one store east of the Anacostia.

Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC

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