With Wal-Mart’s move to DC, an opportunity to change its poor labor image

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

DC officials are welcoming six Wal-Mart stores into the city. That would be an exciting development except that the biggest retailer in the world has a poor reputation – for wage theft (forcing employees to work off the clock), failing to promote women, keeping wages so low that employees can’t afford health insurance, busting efforts to unionize, signing their employees up for food stamps because they pay such bad wages, and squeezing their suppliers to reduce prices so severely they’ve driven some of them out of business. And yet, it’s hard for DC to turn its nose up at an offer to provide fresh grocery options in neighborhoods that currently have only fast food and convenience shops. It’s regrettable that the city’s two largest and longstanding unionized grocery chains – Giant and Safeway – haven’t moved into these neighborhoods.

So now we have Wal-Mart saying it will provide 1,800 jobs, offer fresh produce, and pay competitively; not surprisingly, DC locals are happy to have them. If this deal moves forward, the one thing DC Mayor Vincent Gray should do, given Wal-Mart’s sorry reputation, is to require as a condition of providing permits to open the stores, a community benefits agreement that would provide the city with important concessions. Wal-Mart has curried favor by making donations to charitable organizations, including $3 million to workforce development in DC, and over half a million for summer youth employment. That’s not enough. The city should get really creative, and require that the chain remain neutral to the UFCW’s organizing efforts, require payment of a livable wage for all workers, have a plan to promote women and minorities in the management chain, and establish training programs for the city’s youth.

Wal-Mart doesn’t have to live with a bad image among labor forever. The company will be coming to DC in force and has a great opportunity to start to make over that image.

 

 

Meet NCL’s Mimi Johnson

by Mimi Johnson, NCL’s Health Policy Associate

Hello! As I mark my second month-iversary at the National Consumers League as its new Health Policy Associate, I thought I’d take a quick break from my work and introduce myself to you, our Savvy Consumer readers.  I work directly with the Director of Health Policy, Rebecca Burkholder, on issues ranging from medication safety and adherence to the role of consumers in health reform.

As I run around town attending meetings, testifying before Federal agencies, and participating in coalitions, I get to provide a voice for you, the consumer, in the (often very crowded) health policy discussions. I came to the League after having worked for a health law institute at Georgetown University, which allowed me to see policy from the legal and academic side in a way I never had before. My first “Washington Job” was working as an intern in the office of Senator Feingold, which gave me invaluable insights into the legislative and political world. I’ve since worked for health and environmental nonprofit organizations and at the Royal Norwegian Embassy. A native of Wisconsin, I came to Washington for my undergraduate studies at George Washington University. I escaped the Washington, DC political scene for a year to earn a master’s degree in comparative health and social policy at Oslo University College in Norway.

Stay tuned to the Savvy Consumer, where I hope to post exciting stories – some first-hand, others just very interesting – relating to you, the consumer, and the world of health policy. Thanks for reading! I look forward to joining the discussion!