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SIMMONS: D.C. haters of Wal-Mart engaging in extortion

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wal-Mart haters are at it again, but this time instead of merely rallying and hurling anti-Wal-Mart rhetoric, they are lobbing demands at the retail giant.

Their battle cries stem from Wal-Mart's plans to open four stores in the nation's capital, an ambitious entry that offers enormous employment and economic opportunities as D.C. elected officials wrestle with double-digit joblessness and cloudy tax prospects.

The D.C. anti-Wal-Mart crowd is demanding R-E-S-P-E-C-T from Wal-Mart with a binding, all-or-nothing peremptory agreement that lays out their perspective on hiring and pay, traffic and transportation, the environment and other issues.

Here's an abbreviated list of some of the outrageous demands that will be unveiled Thursday by the Living Wages, Healthy Communities Coalition, whose members include unions, clergy and civic activists:

- Wal-Mart will provide free shuttle transportation to and from the nearest Metro station to each D.C. store every 10 minutes.

- Wal-Mart will provide $50-a-month public transportation subsidies to each employee.

- Wal-Mart will not inquire about job applicants' previous criminal convictions.

- Wal-Mart will provide between one and 2.5 free or low-priced parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of building space per store location.

- Wal-Mart will provide secure, accessible bicycle parking for workers and consumers.

- Wal-Mart shall employ no fewer than two off-duty D.C. police officers on its premises at all times.

- Wal-Mart shall not sell firearms or ammunition at its D.C. stores.

- Wal-Mart will pay every D.C. employee a "living wage" rate or higher.

- Wal-Mart will employ at least 65 percent of the employees at each D.C. store on a full-time, 40-hour-per-week basis.

- Wal-Mart will abide by a code of conduct with regard to its employees' freedom to choose a voice on the job without interference from their employer.

As you can see, the demands sound like a union bargaining agreement and hardly spell R-E-S-P-E-C-T in a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.

To the contrary, Wal-Mart could help ameliorate several problems, chief among them record-high jobless rates east of the Anacostia River (17 percent and 25 percent in Wards 7 and 8, respectively), food deserts and high obesity rates in the eastern half of the city and the flow of $41 million of D.C. money into Maryland and Virginia Wal-Mart stores.

Some of the retailer's most strident critics stood outside the Giant Food store in Ward 5 on Thursday morning, trying to convince shoppers that Wal-Mart is a job-killing, anti-small business, anti-union corporation whose policies are biased against women.

"My main issue is, [Wal-Mart] doesnt pay women equal wages," said LeRoy Hall.

"If [Wal-Mart] wants to be in our community, we have a right to dictate terms," chimed Linda Yahr.

"Send the carpetbaggers back to Arkansas," said Jerome Peloquin, vice president of the investment group Microventure Support.

Some shoppers had reasonable messages of their own.

When one of the half-dozen or so activists stopped a middle-age woman heading into Giant and told her "Wal-Mart is coming," the woman replied, "Of course. Why not?"

A gentleman headed to his car with a cartful of groceries paused, looked at the activists, volunteered that he was a native Washingtonian and offered his opinion.

"Wal-Mart is building stores where there's nothing but blight," he said. "Im sick of looking at the blight. Come on in, Wal-Mart."

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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