Walmart, the country’s largest private employer and huge wielder of political influence, is taking on their greatest challenge yet: A college junior writing an op-ed in her student newspaper.
Georgetown University student Erin Riordan wrote a piece for The Hoya, the school’s student-run newspaper, in support of the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), which would raise the minimum wage for big-box retail employees to $12.50 an hour.
To deal with this threat, Walmart dispatched Steven Restivo, a senior director of communications at Walmart, to write a responding op-ed.
To review: The day before the D.C. City Council voted on the issue, Walmart threatened to cancel the development of three of six planned stores in the District, specifically announcing plans to pull out of D.C.’s most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Residents were confused: why would Walmart balk at the idea of paying $12.50 an hour when they had previously promised comparable or higher wages? Luckily, the council ignored Walmart’s shenanigans and passed the measure 8–5; now Mayor Vincent Gray has the opportunity to sign or veto it.
Erin’s piece on July 24 pointed out the reasons that many of us want the LRAA to become law: to establish a living wage for notoriously underpaid retail workers in one of the most expensive cities in the world. She also points to Walmart’s enormous revenue and their previous promises to pay $13 an hour. Perhaps, most importantly, she points to the LRAA’s ability to lift Washington, D.C., families out of poverty.
The current minimum wage creates a cycle of poverty where even full-time workers struggle to make a living, then transferring the burden of paying for necessities to the taxpayer.
In his July 29 response, Restivo, who we’ll mention again is a senior director of communications at Walmart responding to a student op-ed in a college newspaper, says LRAA is bad policy because it doesn’t apply to all residents.
Workers at places like Starbucks, McDonald's, Exxon Mobil, Giant, Applebee’s, Safeway, Nike, Banana Republic, Five Guys and the Apple Store and hundreds more businesses like them aren’t covered by the LRAA. The legislation does not create a level playing field and imposes arbitrary costs on only a handful of businesses in D.C…that’s bad public policy.
Restivo is referring in part to the section of the LRAA that states, “employees are not barred from entering into a written valid collective bargaining agreement waiving provisions of this act if such waiver is set forth in clear and unambiguous terms.”He and other Walmart spokespeople have said this is a “discriminatory” exemption for unionized retail stores, when in fact it’s simply a bargaining chip workers can use in a collective bargaining negotiation, keeping $12.50 as the wage floor.(Not that we’re surprised a Walmart spokesman doesn’t fully understand unions or the process of management negotiating with workers.)
In addition, Restivo claims the full-time average wage for a Walmart associate in Virginia is $12.39 an hour, and yet he says a $12.50 living wage in Washington, D.C.—a more expensive place to live—is an “arbitrary cost.”
Refuting Restivo point by point could be the basis of a much longer post. But the fact remains that Walmart is so desperate, so insecure about their reputation and so prone to bullying behavior that when a college student writes an op-ed in a campus newspaper in support of a policy Walmart doesn’t like, they just can’t resist the urge to launch their PR machine at her.