Wednesday, April 27, 2011

List of Demands

Last week, responding to this almost-comical-if-it-weren’t-so-sad situation surrounding a Whole Foods in Boston, Radley Balko came up with a list of ways to create a protest-proof grocery store.  Some highlights:

All of which got me wondering. What would it take to run a grocery store that’s immune to progressive protest? I came up with this checklist:

  • You must pay your employees a high wage and provide them with excellent health insurance. However, you may pay them crappy wages and offer fewer benefits so long as you let them unionize. Bonus points if they’re required to divert a portion of those crappy wages to union dues.
  • You must insist that your suppliers adhere to strict standards about the treatment of animals and the environment. You should buy local. You shouldn’t sell anything that can only be shipped by jet or tractor trailer. We don’t want our enjoyment of our shade-grown, fair-trade, organic morning roast with hints of chocolate, currant, and elderberry ruined by a giant-carbon-footprint finish. But remember, you still need to cater to a wide variety of diets. And have good selection. And not charge too much.
  • You should be a good corporate citizen, and donate regularly to charity and political causes. But only those causes that disapprove of commercialism. A good rule of thumb: If the cause you’re considering doesn’t think you, a business, should be legally permitted to exist, it’s probably a safe donation.
  • Just a reminder: You must do all of these things while keeping your prices low. But not so low that you might cause a rival locally-owned store to go out of business.
  • Oh, you also must be locally-owned.
  • You can’t advertise; all advertising is exploitation. It would be preferable if you didn’t have a logo. Actually, it would be preferable if you didn’t even have a sign. (Note: This will also give you a cool, underground vibe.)
  • No trans-fats. No plastics. No high-fructose corn syrup. Don’t even think of selling tobacco, unless it’s that apple-flavored stuff we need for our Hookahs. You may sell alcohol, but only organic wine and micro-brewed beer. Nothing from Big Alcohol. Except PBR, of course. (But remember, keep those prices low!)
  • You must foster a work environment that promotes tolerance and open-mindedness. This means no white trash.
  • Even if you meet all of these conditions, no management for your store may at no time publicly express a political opinion that runs contrary to progressive values. This is betrayal, and the boycotts will commence.

Turns out Balko wasn’t that far off.  From the Washington Business Journal, here is a list of demands community groups have given to Walmart, which is planning to open four stores in the District:

Among the demands, the group wants Walmart to:

  • Pay every employee the D.C. living wage, currently $12.50 per hour.
  • Provide $50 a month in public transportation subsidy to every employee.
  • Employ at least 65 percent of its D.C. employees on a full-time basis.
  • Not ask job applicants about previous criminal convictions.
  • Use project labor agreements to construct its stores.
  • Fund all infrastructure improvements made necessary by its stores.
  • Provide free shuttle transportation to and from the nearest Metro station to each D.C. store every 10 minutes.
  • Commit to traffic alleviation studies.
  • Provide up to 2.5 free or low-priced parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of building space.
  • Provide secure, accessible bicycle parking, car sharing and bike sharing for workers and shoppers.
  • Not sell firearms or ammunition.
  • Employ no less than two off-duty D.C. police officers on its premises at all times.
  • Abide by a "code of conduct with regard to its employees' freedom to choose a voice on the job without interference."
  • Fund workforce training programs for D.C. residents, and use training programs as its primary avenue for hiring D.C. residents.
  • Hire at least 40 percent of its employees at each store from the ward in which the store is located.
  • Make "ongoing contributions to a fund managed by a council of community stakeholders" that will provide incentives and support to local small businesses.
  • Make ongoing payments for community funds controlled by "community advisory councils" for education and faith-based programs.

The WBJ adds:

Walmart, which plans to open four D.C. stores by 2013, is generally loathe to sign community benefit agreements, and there's very little D.C. activists can do, besides protest, to force the retailer into one.

Which…isn’t true.  There’s one significant thing every citizen can do to force the retailer to do things: don’t shop there.  If these activists are really speaking for the community at large, then Walmart won’t have any customers until it agrees to the demands of the community.  If they’re in such good position now that they can force all these demands on a single company (who isn’t asking for favors or handouts from the DC government, unlike pretty much every other corporation that comes to DC), then it shouldn’t be too difficult to follow through on that threat.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Like the Boston Whole Foods story mentioned above, there seems to be a disconnect between the “community activists” and the community:

“From my perspective, they have really rolled up their sleeves and shown us that they are interested in community concerns,” said Second Baptist Church pastor James Terrell, citing the money for local education needs as well as amenities that the new Walmart would bring.

Paul McElligott, executive director of the Perry School Community Services Center, spoke of the dire need for employment—his organization has in previous years placed around 25 people in jobs per month, but only averaged seven in 2010. “All things considered, this project is a benefit,” he said.

Yvonne Williams, chair of the Board of Trustees for Bible Way Church—which has built hundreds of low-income apartments right across the street from the proposed Walmart, and is at work on 60 more—brought 50 signatures in favor of the project from local residents, and says they desperately need more affordable groceries than what they can get in CityVista Safeway and NoMa Harris Teeter (Bible Way had tried to run a supermarket itself years ago, and failed. Now, according to St. Aloysius' Father Thomas Clifford, a local non-profit runs buses for seniors to a Walmart out in Maryland.)

“We’ve been praying for food in our neighborhood for 40 years,” Williams said. “We need Walmart here to meet the needs of our residents.”

Looks like our Food Desert Czar doesn’t have to look far for answers.

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