50 Years of Walmart: Where are we now?
Walmart to Respect DC community?
By Joanna Stewart, National Jobs with Justice Intern
As Walmart prepares to celebrate its 50th Anniversary, groups across the country have been organizing their own teach-ins and town halls to tell their own story about what 50 years of Walmart has meant to workers and communities. In Washington, DC the Respect DC had a community teach-in on Friday, July 29th. Speakers included Michael Mensan and Bertha Guillen, Walmart Associates from Laurel, MD and members of OUR Walmart, a national association of Walmart workers. Walmart has proposed six store locations in Wards 4, 5, 6, and 7 in Washington, DC, and has building permits for two of the locations. Respect DC has been demanding that Walmart sign a binding community benefits agreement before opening in DC. This demand is echoed nationally by members of OUR Walmart, who are calling on the company to provide a living wage and healthcare benefits, to sign a national community benefits agreement, and to sign a global agreement to ensure that they use responsible contractors and suppliers.
Walmart has been promising to create 1,800 new jobs in DC, but community members are concerned about the way Walmart has devastated other communities across the US and across the globe.
Grace Sheedy of the United Food and Commercial Workers shared information on Walmart’s practices in other countries. The Department of Justice is currently investigating Walmart for charges of corruption and bribery in Mexico and a number of other countries. Meanwhile closer to home, a Walmart supplier, CJ’s Seafood, is under investigation by the Department of Labor after workers went on strike in protest of forced labor conditions. Saket Soni from the National Guestworker Alliance spoke about efforts of guestworkers at CJ’s Seafood to engage Walmart in holding their supplier accountable. Strikers have been attempted to meet with Walmart officials and board members for the past two weeks, and on Saturday held a 24-hour fast in front of the house of Walmart board member Michelle Burns in New York City.
Jobs with Justice Coalition partners in Chicago, Portland, Los Angeles, Boston, and Indianapolis did actions in solidarity with the guestworkers by letting their community know how Walmart is affecting them in their cities. In Dallas, they did a Solidarity Night event with UAW 848 along with the Teamsters, Communications Workers, Ironworkers, Doctors, OUR Walmart Associates, and community leaders. Portland JwJ did a teach workshop/discussion on how to build a local campaign to keep Walmart from damaging our community and lowering standards for workers.
In light of increasing concern over how Walmart Associates, warehouse workers, and guestworkers are being treated, the DC community is more adamant than ever that Walmart meet their demands before opening stores in DC. Respect DC will be holding a vigil on Monday, July 9th with community members, faith leaders, and Walmart Associates at the proposed Walmart site in Ward 4.
Protecting Communities and Building Futures
By Jeremy Hedlund, University of Oregon Student Labor Action Project
I was finally back in Portland, OR. Known as one of the most progressive cities in the country, I have always been proud to call this place my home. So when I heard that Walmart had made plans to build 17 new “Neighborhood Markets” while I was away at college, I knew I had to do something. Fortunately, Portland Jobs with Justice and the United Food and Commercial Workers had already sprung into action.
Our first meeting was on June 30th, attended by union members, community activists, and even by mayoral candidate Charlie Hales. We were briefed by UFCW organizers on the effects of Walmart moving into a community, and began to discuss our next move. It was decided that we would have to act quickly to make an impact, and we agreed that a multi-pronged approach was necessary. We would need to recruit new activists to our cause, engage in direct action organizing at the sites that Walmart was planning to move in to, and research land use laws and other legal points that we could use to our advantage. Meeting attendees volunteered for different tasks; some will ask local faith leaders or neighborhood associations to get involved, some will bring it up at their next union meeting, and some will research previous cases where corporate development was blocked by local governance.
As for me? I’ll be contacting every student I know from Portland State University and the University of Portland. We have a major stake in ensuring that Portland continues to be a hub for sustainable development, and Walmart’s current model does not fit in with that vision. Many of us are very busy in the summer months with jobs or internships, but we recognize that this is a fight that needs our voice. Walmart cannot be allowed to destroy our community, and we will stand with our fellow activists to fight.