Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Wal-mart plays hardball with DC politicians over vote on a retail worker wage bill

When I got involved (ANC4B Large Tract Review Report on Walmart, 5/2011) in the large tract review process concerning the site for a Walmart store on the 5900 block of Georgia Avenue NW (about 3/4 mile from my house so I couldn't ignore it), I wrote about Walmart's very contentious practices focused on getting their way.

Specifically, the City of San Diego passed a very good Big Box Retail Review Ordinance, and Walmart organized a referendum campaign to overturn the legislation--which sustained a veto by the Mayor.  But because of the cost of running a special election and the budgetary problems, the City Council caved and overturned the legislation, and Walmart then proceeded with their plans there.

See "City Council Votes To Repeal Big-Box Ordinance" from San Diego Channel 10 News and this report on the bill ("Ordinance to Protect Small and Neighborhood Businesses"), but I haven't been able to find the exact legislation.

In DC, Walmart rolled up politician support before they made public their plans to build 4 stores, and later 2 more, for a total of 6, making it very difficult to oppose them.  See the great City Paper article, "The Selling of Walmart: How the world's biggest retailer won over D.C. without a fight."

The real problem in DC planning and zoning regulations is that they aren't very tough when it comes to providing for mitigation for possible problems.  See the past blog entry "Lessons from Walmart's foray into Washington, DC" which delineates various necessary changes that were indicated based on the initial entry of Walmart into the city.

In the fallout after, unions got City Council to put forward legislation requiring relatively high wages for employees of certain large types of large retailers, including Walmart and Target, but exempting unionized grocery stores. 

I disagreed with that legislation ("DC's proposed legislation on large retailers is misguided"), not because I think big box retailers are great, but because instead of focusing on the real gaps in DC planning practices related to big box retailers, the unions and the Council focused solely on wage issues.

The final vote on the legislation is tomorrow, and Walmart announced that if the legislation passes, they won't proceed with the 3 stores that are planned but haven't commenced construction.  See "Wal-Mart will nix three D.C. projects if living wage bill passes" from the Washington Business Journal.

In talking with Suzanne about the general issue over the weekend, I mentioned my previous writings about how Walmart makes "business decisions" and that their decision to pay women less than men is no different than their decision to curry favor with health interests by expanding their provision of healthier foods or with environmentalists on their various energy reduction interests. They don't make these decisions because of values or ethics, but because it makes sense business-wise on whatever criteria that they are using to make the decision.

And Suzanne pointed out that Walmart's practice of systematically paying women less, reducing people's hours to lower benefits, etc., means that we need to make the choice not to shop there, to demonstrate that we don't support their anti-worker practices, despite the low prices or their environmental practices, etc.

I am probably fine with Walmart walking away, because I find many of their business practices to be anathema.  But others will disagree.

If because as is increasingly likely that Mayor Gray will not run for re-election, because of illegal campaign activities in the 2010 election, I could see him vetoing the legislation, because stores in retail under-served areas, especially the two East of the river store locations designed to serve Wards 7 and 8.  That would set the stage for Council, to overturn the veto.

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At 9:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mayor Gray does not represent DC he is a stooge for the city workers who all live in PG county and have retired family still left in DC so they can claim an address for their kids to go to school here.

At 10:07 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Here is the irony: Yes, wal-mart loves part timers and doesn't want to give them insurance.

However, having wal-mart employees in the insurance pool might make the the individual+small business exchange viable in DC. Otherwise it is going to be in a world of hurt.

Also, as you have repeated, the "planed" stores don't really work.

If wal-mart was really smart, they'd hire you as a front man to promte urban stores! That is what they did with al gore's advance team which pushed them into the "environment" as an excuse for their business practices.

Another, hidden advantage of keeping big box out of DC is we can order from them online and not pay sales tax. I'm sure the council wants to kill as well.

At 11:38 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I am not very good at marketing myself to developers. But Suzanne would never forgive me if I went to work for Walmart.

But yes, it's pretty obvious what needs to be done and I would be good at it. (plus people like Al Gore and Andy Young--if only briefly--are much higher profile)

Good point about sales tax and nexus.

At 12:09 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

I'd say it be worth it if Walmart was very serious about investing in cities.

However, this outburst just shows how marginal their interest is. Presumably those 3 stories would make some amount of money.

At 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gray does not represent DC and he is a plaything for the Sprawl mart hooligans- maybe he should run for PG County office instead? He certainly does not have DC's interests in mind or at heart...

At 1:57 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

as you know, I've written scads about this topic, in the posts cited in this entry.

Walmart is interested in being in cities, but they have no stated preference in how they locate their stores in cities. They want to be in cities but don't care about urbanism.

So what happens at a site is dependent on the developer's intentions, not Walmart's. Walmart has no interest in encouraging a developer to do a site as mixed use/urban. They just want to be at a particular site.

This is the point that most urban commentators seem to miss.

And then there is the labor issue, as you mentioned earlier (the part timers issue, the way they manage labor, etc., it's not really so much how they deal with women or other classes, but how they deal with labor at all levels within stores).

At the WCP website, someone linked to an ongoing series in the Gawker on Walmart worker stories. Really really disturbing. Reading those makes me more resolved (despite the low prices that are appealing on some goods) to not shop there.

At 2:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sprawlmart does not need so many stores in the city- and the stores EOTR will be problems for them in that shoplifting is a way of life in those parts. DC is wrong to discourage new business of any kind but also correct to make demands- I bet the DC city council caves on this number- they are mostly spineless bleeding heart yuppies but lawyers at heart with their bottom line ialways in clear site.


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