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Wal-Mart Threatens To Pull Out Of D.C. Over Wage Requirements


Wal-Mart is threatening to walk away from plans to build three of six new stores slated for the nation's capital. Those three stores are supposed to go up in some of the city's neediest neighborhoods. But the city council in Washington, D.C., has approved a bill requiring big box stores to pay employees a living wage of $12.50 an hour. And Wal-Mart says if that becomes the law, it will scrap its plans.

NPR's Allison Keyes spoke to people in those communities about their thoughts on the standoff.

ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: Unless you live on Capitol Hill, there aren't very many grocery stores in southeast Washington, D.C. There aren't all that many other kinds of retail outlets either. So people like Barbara Coe were looking forward to a Wal-Mart coming here to the corner of Alabama Ave. and Good Hope Road and bringing jobs.

BARBARA COE: I was enthusiastic.

KEYES: She was also anticipating not having to travel to Maryland to shop at a store she likes.

COE: It'd be good to spend the money in D.C. where I stay at, in southeast. It would be good for us.

KEYES: Coe says, sure, the 12 and a half bucks an hour the city wants large retailers to pay would be nice, but she says...

COE: I would've took the 8-something.

KEYES: D.C.'s current minimum wage is $8.25 an hour. But Greg Butler says that's not enough.

GREG BUTLER: Even though we got one of the top minimum wages out here, can't nobody live off that.

KEYES: Butler was standing with a group of men in the parking lot of a shopping center across from where one of the Wal-Marts would have been built. He says the city doesn't need six stores. Three would be enough. Butler thinks the council's wage bill is the right choice.

BUTLER: It's good. That's the only way you can survive.

KEYES: D.C. City Councilman David Grosso says Wal-Mart can afford to pay the living wage and he hopes they don't pull out of three stores, but...

DAVID GROSSO: They are operating like that in every other jurisdiction in the country, so it doesn't surprise me they would do that here in the nation's capital.

YVETTE ALEXANDER: I wasn't surprised with the vote. I was disappointed.

KEYES: D.C. City Councilmember Yvette Alexander represents Ward 7, which will lose two stores and 600 jobs if the living wage bill becomes law.

ALEXANDER: It was going to be the catalyst to bring more opportunities in.

KEYES: The battle here in D.C. echoes the drama in other jurisdictions over similar measures targeting big retailers. In 2006 in Chicago, then Mayor Richard Daley vetoed a similar living wage bill. As in Washington, D.C., organized labor and advocates for low-income residents waged a pitched fight against the non-union company.

ELIZABETH PARISIAN: We were against Wal-Mart coming to town.

KEYES: Elizabeth Parisian is with Stand Up! Chicago, a coalition of labor, community and faith groups. She says Wal-Mart hasn't done anything to lift working families out of poverty.

PARISIAN: Wal-Mart has not at all lived up to its claims of bringing economic vitality to these neighborhoods, in fact, quite the opposite.

KEYES: But Chicago Alderman Howard Brookins says Wal-Mart brought jobs and development to his south side ward where there was none before.

HOWARD BROOKINS: It is attracting other businesses like Lowes and Pot Belly and Game Stop. Bank of America and Chase Bank are coming.

KEYES: Back in southeast Washington, Barbara Coe says she and others here just need a chance to earn some money.

COE: A job is better than having no job.

KEYES: Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray has supported Wal-Mart's coming to the city. He is considering whether to veto the bill. Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.



You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Keyes is an award-winning journalist with almost 20 years of experience in print, radio, and television. She has been reporting for NPR's national desk since October 2005. Her reports can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition Sunday.
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