By Elisabeth Springer, Intern, International Labor Rights Forum
On Monday February 7, 2011 Respect D.C. held a rally with various civic and business organization leaders at the John Wilson building on Pennsylvania Avenue, which houses the Washington D.C. Council and Mayors offices. The rally took place at 12:30pm so as to follow scheduled meetings with council members inside the building.
ILRF participated in the rally as we wanted to make the connection between the concerns that those in the D.C. community have about Walmart AND the workers that produce the products sold at Walmart. ILRF has focused on the destructive impact of Walmart's sourcing model on workers around the world. You can learn more at www.laborrights.org/creating-a-sweatfree-world/wal-mart-campaign.
Respect D.C. is a project out of Living Wages, Healthy Communities, which is a coalition of grassroots organizations and community members who are committed to securing decent, living wage jobs so as to preserve the quality of life in Washington D.C. Respect D.C. is specifically focused on fighting to make the opening of Wal-Mart a positive addition to our neighborhoods, and they believe each community should get to decide whether or not to open their community to the mega-store and on what terms.
The speakers at the rally demanded fair wages and fair treatment from Wal-Mart, which plans to open four locations in D.C in wards 4, 5, 6 and 7. The coalition is working to educate people about the reality of Wal-Mart’s record of paying very low wages, forcing out its competition, causing a net loss of jobs, and breaking its promises. In addition, Wal-Mart has been involved in lawsuits because of its discriminatory policies against women and its engagement in wage theft.
One local business owner spoke to the crowd on Monday about the devastating impact the opening of a Wal-Mart can have on a community’s local businesses, workers, and overall economy as he expressed his strong desire to keep it out of the district. However, most of the protestors seemed to feel the opening of Wal-Mart in our nation’s capital was inevitable at this point, and rather focused more on the need for Wal-Mart to agree to an enforceable community benefits agreement (CBA) before they opened their store doors. This CBA calls for a guarantee that Wal-Mart will treat its workers with dignity, such as by providing full-time living wage jobs with affordable health and retirement benefits, and additionally work to improve the economic situation and quality of life in the neighborhoods in which it will open.
To stay up to date with Wal-mart’s activities, check out Walmart Watch, which seeks to hold the United States’ largest corporation fully accountable for its impact on communities, workers, the environment, and the economy, as well as to challenge it to live up to its responsibilities. Also check out ILRF’s ongoing work with our Wal-Mart campaign.