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Call them prescient: A week after the news breaks that Wal-Mart has finally found a viable place to locate in the District, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union has a poll out with evidence that D.C. residents support making big box stores pay a living wage and hire from local communities.
The idea failed in the City Council five years ago, following Wal-Mart’s first attempt to locate in the District. In 2006—a year after Councilmember David Catania introduced legislation that would have forbidden the construction of retail stores larger than 80,000 square feet altogether—Councilmember Phil Mendelson tried to force big box stores to pay its employees a living wage of $11 per hour, plus benefits. Intense business opposition, plus the city’s efforts to bring large retailers to Washington, stymied those measures in committee.
The poll, conducted by big-time liberal pollster Celinda Lake in mid-June, shows that 76 percent of 400 likely voters polled would support legislation that would force big-box stores to pay its employees $12 an hour, and only less if the company provided substantial health benefits; as well as hire 75 percent of its employees from the local community. (White males, the least supportive group, still backed the idea 63 percent to 26 percent.)
Sure, Lake might have messed up the whole Coakley business earlier this year. And yeah, UFCW is a sworn enemy of Wal-Mart. But labor advocates are telling me that the company’s arrival in D.C. might be time to revive the big-box campaign, and this could provide some ammunition.
“If you’re going to come into the city, you have to make a commitment to D.C. residents. That you’re not going to just be making minimum wage, but a living wage, andyou need to employ D.C. residents,” says Courtney Chappell, of D.C.’s Employment Justice Center. “The Targets and Bed Bath and Beyonds and Wal-Mart – they can easily afford to pay $12.10 an hour and still maintain profitability. It just doesn’t make sense to us at all.”
For more on Wal-Mart in D.C., check the paper on Thursday!
Photo via flickr user lone primate.