After a few weeks of processing the news of Walmart’s arrival, it looks like at least one neighborhood—Brightwood—is mobilizing in attempt to bend the company to its will.
Funny thing is, the outcry wouldn’t be as loud if developer Foulger-Pratt hadn’t backed out of a planned community meeting on the subject, calling it “unecessary.”
Rebecca Mills, who maintains the neighborhood’s most active blog, is rallying neighborhood residents to pressure the developer to “halt their Wal-Mart plans until there is sufficient time for community input.” According to Mills, the company has opted instead to meet with smaller groups, rather than put itself through a potentially contentious public meeting. (F-P executive Dick Knapp didn’t return my call or email, but he told the Post‘s Jonathan O’Connell that they will be at the meeting).
One of those went off last Thursday, in which Foulger-Pratt and Walmart representatives met with Councilmember Muriel Bowser, local ANCs, and civic associations. According to notes by ANC commissioner Joseph Martin, Walmart said some encouraging things: In terms of design, there will be a wide sidewalk with plants and benches and parking for 362 cars underneath the 102,000-foot store, which may or may not be more than one level (the site can handle 400,000 square feet, which was roughly the size of Foulger-Pratt’s previously planned residential development). In terms of working conditions, Walmart expects to have 70 percent full-time and 30 percent part-time employees, who will be entitled to health and dental insurance, as well as vacation pay.
But concerns remain. Last night, community members met again with labor activists to go over issues around traffic, impact on small businesses, and potential alternatives that could still be considered, like a Harris Teeter. Some of those issues will be sorted out through the Office of Planning’s large tract review process, which requires traffic and environmental impact studies for anything larger than three acres. For questions around Walmart’s labor practices and integration into the community, participants suggested negotiating a community benefits agreement—but, as Richard Layman notes, that’s going to be pretty much impossible under these conditions. Plus, although the United Food and Commercial Workers Union has stood steadfastly against Walmart’s arrival, building trades unions are likely to support it, undermining solidarity on that front.
D.C. Jobs With Justice’s Mackenzie Baris acknowledges that labor advocates can’t hold Walmart to a higher standard on their own.
“Any concessions will need to be voluntary on Walmart’s part, or pushed by the developer as a condition,” she says. “The main leverage we have it community opposition and pressure and concern by the Walmart or the developer over bad publicity and their reputations.”
Brightwood is the only place where I’ve seen significant community mobilization thus far. An online poll has residents split on the New Jersey Avenue location, and Councilmember Harry Thomas is pretty psyched about the one in his own ward.
“I am excited that Wal-Mart recognizes that Ward 5 is an ideal location for its largest DC store,” he said in a recent newsletter. “Connecting residents to the jobs this project will create is one of my biggest goals for my second term in office.”