Graphic: MGN Online

WASHINGTON ( – The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision June 20 to disqualify about 1.5 million female Wal-Mart workers from bringing a class action lawsuit claiming wage discrimination gave big corporations all over the country a big win over workers because it made it substantially more difficult for plaintiffs to file class action suits in a variety of cases.

After the decision, women’s advocates complained that the “discriminatory environment” remains in the company’s stores where women hold 70 percent of the hourly paid positions, but only 30 percent of the management jobs.

At the same time grassroots organizations in Washington pressed a campaign to require the company to sign an enforceable “community benefits agreement,” promising decent wages and benefits for the workers to be hired if the company is to open four new stores in the nation’s capital, as they announced plans to do.


The court decision “highlights the need for D.C. to take the lead and be pro-active in ensuring that Wal-Mart is a responsible corporate citizen in our city, and not waiting for change to happen elsewhere, or from courts or through long legal battles, but really figuring out as a community how we hold this corporation responsible here,” Mackenzie Barish with the D.C. Jobs with Justice, which is a member of the 40-group Living Wages, Healthy Communities Coalition, told The Final Call.

“We do it through an enforceable, signed community benefits agreement,” she said, indicating that a broad coalition of groups has worked for more than six months, surveying residents, neighborhood political leaders, organizations with expertise in environmental protection, and workforce development, to come up with a proposal for community benefits that will protect the city.

The coalition includes clergy from the Wednesday Clergy Fellowship as well as activists, and they want the D.C. Council and the mayor–who must approve zoning changes in some cases and allow building permits in all instances before the stores can be built–to force Wal-Mart to negotiate with them.

“We think it’s important that the 1,200 jobs they’ve been promising, are actually good jobs,” Ms. Barish continued. “To us that means that they are ‘living wage’ of $12.50 an hour, starting; that they have good benefits; that they’re full-time, defined at 40 hours a week, and that a majority of the jobs are full time. We think it means having programs that support local businesses in an area.

“We think that there needs to be a strong plan for local hiring, not just a promise to hire D.C. residents, but real firm numbers and goals, and a plan to invest in job training and hire directly out of job training programs, that there is a pipeline for D.C. residents into these jobs.

“We are looking to see real leadership standards in environmental protection. Not just what’s required under the law, but really going above and beyond, for storm water management plans that help protect our rivers, for green roofs, for model green building standards,” and security at the sites for workers, shoppers and the surrounding community, Ms. Barish continued.

In recent months the company has engaged in a public relations campaign of its own, sending literature through the mail, as well as door-to-door petitions, and increased charitable giving in the area, suggesting that the D.C. market and other urban centers are important to the company’s future economic plans.

“Also, their company is in a little bit of trouble. They’re not growing anymore,” said Ms. Barish, “they’re really a company that wants to be a growth company, and they don’t really have anywhere else to grow within the United States, except our urban centers, except in D.C. and New York, and San Francisco, and some of the other cities where they are looking to expand. I think that they actually really need D.C.,” she said.

Target and Home Depot have stores in Washington, which are top performers in their chains, said Ms. Barish, and Wal-Mart stands to make a lot of money by opening a store, which is why it is in the company’s interest to win over community support.

“We crafted a nine point plan of principles that we’re calling on our elected officials to represent and stand as a unified front in terms of representing.” The Rev. Graylan Hagler, pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church of Christ, and a member of the Wednesday Clergy Fellowship told The Final Call after his delegation met with D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown.

“Those nine points have to do with the making certain that the minimum wage law is adhered to, that Wal-Mart hire from the District of Columbia, that 70 percent of the workforce was going to be full-time employees, and those employees would have the kinds of benefits they needed, including provisions for a pension plan, and that there was going to be a fund that would be set up to aid small businesses to be able to compete,” the Rev. Hagler continued.

Coalition members rallied outside the D.C. Council chambers and met with elected officials to demand that Wal-Mart either “respect D.C. or stay out!”