Coming on the heels of a strike in scores of cities last week by fast-food restaurant employees, the action led some to question whether the country’s working poor were reaching a tipping point of frustration over stagnating wages and declining buying power.
The activists had given Wal-Mart a Labor Day deadline to respond to their demand for an annual wage of $25,000 for full-time workers. The restaurant workers sought a wage of $15 an hour. Both figures would amount to a major jump from the current federal hourly minimum wage of $7.25.
The protests led to sporadic arrests and intensified scrutiny of Gray’s decision. He faces a deadline of next week.
With plans for six stores in the District, Wal-Mart had threatened to pull out of at least three of them if the bill becomes law. On Thursday,
one of those deals fell through
because of differences between the developer and landowner — not because Wal-Mart backed out.
Supporters of the Large Retailer Accountability Act, passed by the D.C. Council in July, boarded buses Thursday afternoon outside offices of the AFL-CIO in the District and traveled to one of the Wal-Mart stores closest to the capital, which does not have one.
At the store near the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Landover Hills, just over 200 protesters marched onto Route 450 at rush hour chanting, “They say, ‘Roll back.’ We say, ‘Fight back.’ ”
The group abandoned a route agreed upon with police and fanned out across the main intersection leading to the store as traffic backed up for nearly a mile.
Prince George’s County police arrested six protesters who refused to leave the roadway after multiple warnings.
Only two protesters publicly identified themselves as former Wal-Mart employees, and store spokesman Steve Jumper said no employees walked off the job to join the protest. Jumper said full-time Wal-Mart workers in Maryland earn $12.10 an hour.
Antoinette Norwood, a resident of Northeast, was typical of the protesters. She boarded a union-funded bus from the District and said she wanted to lend her voice to the effort because she doesn’t want Wal-Mart moving into one of its planned sites off Georgia Avenue.
“As much money as Wal-Mart makes, it can afford to pay more,” said the retired security worker. “Living on $8.50 in the District is hard living; two people making $8.50 can’t even pay rent.”
Wal-Mart cast the protests as a “stunt” by national labor interests intent on trying to unionize the giant retailer’s workforce.
“What you’re seeing today is not coming from Wal-Mart [employees], it’s labor-backed, union-backed demonstrations trying to garner attention for their cause,” said Brooke Buchanan, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.