DC Mayor’s Veto of Walmart Wage Bill is a National Outrage

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This post first appeared at the Campaign for America’s Future blog, OurFuture.org.

An outdoors sign for Walmart is seen in Duarte, California on May 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

An sign for Walmart is seen in Duarte, California. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Washington, DC Mayor Vincent Gray has vetoed a bill that would require large, billion-dollar retailers like Walmart to pay their workers a living wage, defined in the bill as at least $12.50 an hour. It is the latest development in a nationwide battle to end the double-barreled exploitation by such firms as Walmart, which build their businesses on the backs of workers receiving poverty wages and on the backs of taxpayers who subsidize their businesses.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Cay Johnston, who writes extensively about corporate tax and economic issues, explained in an interview this week that the Walmart wage bill, which passed by a substantial but not veto-proof majority of the City Council, symbolizes the kinds of things that have to be done to address what is fundamentally wrong with today’s economy.

Video Courtesy of Campaign for America's Future

“If Wal-Mart comes into Washington, it will drive down the wages everywhere else, and it will be a job destroyer,” he said, citing a study that shows that a new Wal-Mart on average will cause the loss of 175 jobs as competing neighborhood businesses are driven out and as wage cuts filer through the local community, lowering spending.

But Johnston acknowledged the messaging challenge for progressive activists trying to win over residents in low-income communities, such as some of the neighborhoods in DC targeted by Walmart. “It is very difficult for people when they are thinking about feeding their kids next week [to think about] in a year from now I will be worse off,” he said. But, he adds, “that’s where the long-term focus should be, that what Walmart wants to do is make you worse off.”

The news of Mayor Gray’s veto comes on the same day that Bloomberg News details how, on top of pushing down wages, killing jobs and milking governments for tax giveaways where their stores and warehouses are located, the Walton family that owns Walmart are also tax evaders.

“America’s richest family, worth more than $100 billion, has exploited a variety of legal loopholes to avoid the estate tax, according to court records and Internal Revenue Service filings obtained through public-records requests,” Bloomberg reports. One of the results of their tax avoidance is a billion-dollar museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, that houses the Walton family’s personal art collection.

No city — and no country — should have to accept a corporation paying its experienced workers poverty wages (and increasing demands on government programs by encouraging employees to apply for public assistance to get food, housing and health care), extorting tax giveaways from municipalities where their facilities are located AND gaming the tax code so they contribute far less of a share of their income to the public welfare than the struggling workers they exploit.

One way you can express support for a living wage for Walmart workers is by adding your name to this petition by the United Food and Commercial Workers that calls on Walmart to “commit to [paying] your workers a minimum real wage of $25,000 annually so they can support a family” and to end retailiation against workers who have participated in Walmart wage actions around the country.

Isaiah J. Poole is the communications director for People's Action. The former \editor of OurFuture.org, he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Follow him on Twitter: @ijpoole.
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