4 Wal-Mart fights you’ve never heard of

July 11, 2013

In the latest round of the Washington versus Wal-Mart game of chicken, D.C. Council members pushed ahead Wednesday, approving a bill that would require the retail chain, along with other large business in the District, to pay employees 50 percent over the city’s minimum wage. The Wal-Mart regional manager threatened to pull plans for three stores if the measure passed, which warranted a simple shrug from council members. Although the fight is a first for the District, similar scenarios have played out repeatedly throughout the country, in communities big and small. From the stuffed city halls full of crossed-arms residents to the street protests asking for a “Walmart-free” town with brightly colored signs, for Wal-Mart, this tango is just more of the same.

Arena: Oconomowoc, Wisc.

Who won: Although it hasn’t been built yet, Wal-Mart officially announced its plans in May.

Fight recap: Residents said they moved to this town of about 15,000 people for the small-community feel and don’t want a giant Wal-Mart in their community. If the Wal-Mart is built, residents said the city would be paying the giant to compete against local business. Residents have protested at city hall and organized the group Walk Away Walmart, Inc. They are collecting petition signatures.

Best punch: “Personally, I don’t think that gorgeous area should have a slimy store like Wal-Mart that sells cheap Chinese junk,” one resident said about the plans.

Arena: Newark.

Who won: Residents.

Fight recap: The location would bring the first Wal-Mart to Newark along with $650,000 in property and payroll taxes, according to the Wall Street Journal, but residents said they wanted an employer with “decent” jobs. Wal-Mart, they believed, didn’t fit the bill. Amid widespread criticism for the plan, Wal-Mart backed down. A more “family-friendly” ShopRite signed a lease for the space.

Best punch: “I will tell you Wal-Mart is no friend to communities. . .we want to speak out to our community when they try to pull the wool over our eyes,” one resident told activists.

If signed by the mayor, the D.C. Council measure would require retailers with corporate sales of $1 billion or more and operating in spaces 75,000 square feet or larger to pay their employees no less than $12.50 an hour. The city’s minimum wage is $8.25.

Arena: Bel Air, Md.

Who won: Wal-Mart, for now.

Fight recap: Wal-Mart chose to build a new store instead of expanding an existing store nearby, which the company wants to close. Its neighbors are worried about an increase in traffic, which one resident said would bring in 10,000 more cars per day. They’ve been protesting alongside busy roads outside the old Wal-Mart with signs that say “No Bel Air Walmart” and “Expand the Constant Friendship Wal-Mart.” Not quite as catchy as the D.C. signs, we must admit.

Best punch: One resident, a recently retired Marine who spent time in Afghanistan, joined protesters at town hall after lawmakers declined to pass a bill that would stop Wal-Mart. He told lawmakers that as a Marine he worked to teach Afghans about the democratic process, something completely absent from the city council. Ouch.

Arena: Athens, Ga.

Who won: The residents.

Fight recap: Athens residents proud of the small music town’s history as home of R.E.M. fought against plans to add another Wal-Mart. Support groups such as People For A Better Athens quickly formed and the local Occupy movement began protests. After an image showing a Wal-Mart towering over the quaint downtown area went viral on residents’ Facebook pages, the fight was mostly over. A new proposal for the area was eventually unveiled sans Wal-Mart.

Best punch: “To try to have a public hearing on something that’s zoned properly is almost like having a public trial for somebody that hasn’t done anything wrong,” Mayor Nancy Denson said after Occupy protesters vowed to camp at city hall until public hearings were held on the issue.

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