Want to see pure altruism in action? Go to Washington, D.C. — not to the federal government’s marble buildings, but to the real city, where ordinary folks live. There you’ll find a business organization that wants nothing more than to serve the people, help improve lives, and be a generous neighbor. That selfless organization is Walmart.
With six big-box stores planned for our nation’s capital, the corporation’s regional manager wants people to know that Walmart’s intentions truly are philanthropic. We wish only “to bring more jobs, shopping options, and fresh food choices,” Walmart regional manager Alex Barron recently declared in an ultimatum published in The Washington Post.
Barron also expressed the retail giant’s desire to ”expand access and opportunity,” create “a job-training program,” and “support…nonprofits.”
Alas, this Mother Teresa of global retail is now wailing that its generosity has been spurned by an impudent city council that says it’s not interested in corporate pretensions of “charity,” but in tangible fairness. Council members have had the audacity to pass a “Large Retailer Accountability Act” that would require Walmart to pay fair wages to its D.C. employees. The stipulated wage floor is $12.50 an hour, or about $25,000 a year in gross pay. That’s no princely sum for life this very expensive city. In response, Walmart threw off its altruism mask, revealing the low-wage, miserly scowl for which it is globally infamous. The nice regional manager turned nasty, sputtering that the giant retailer couldn’t afford such extravagance because it would “challenge the fiscal health of our planned D.C. stores.” Barron threatened to abandon the city if the fair-wage law is not repealed.
“Afford?” Walmart is the most profitable corporation in America, bagging $17 billion in profits last year. Yet, it routinely pays its workers so poorly that they have to take food stamps and other support from us taxpayers. Hey, D.C. — tell ‘em goodbye…and good riddance.
By Jim Hightower
OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.