Just outside the District, scores of people gathered at a Maryland Wal-Mart on September 5 to demand living wages and protest the retailer’s recent worker protection violations, putting increasing pressure on DC Mayor Vincent D. Gray and the decision he must make next week on whether to sign the Large Retailer Accountability Act of 2013 (the DC Council’s living wage bill). Wal-Mart is expected to cancel plans to build stores in the District if the bill takes effect.
As Aaron Davis and Michael A. Fletcher reported in The Washington Post on September 6, protests were taking place in 15 cities around the country, marking a national day of action that Wal-Mart dismissed as a union-backed publicity stunt. In the WaPo article, Steve Jumper, a Wal-Mart spokesman, stated that employees in Maryland are paid $12.10 an hour, which is below the $12.50 the DC Council demands for large retailers in its July 2013 living wage bill.
The protests come at a time when low-wage workers in many sectors are making their voices heard across the country. Recently, fast-food workers took to the streets to demand higher wages and better working conditions. The September 5 protests only add to the intense public attention currently paid towards wage standards.
The protests also targeted violations of workers’ rights. On the Facebook page of Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart (OUR Wal-Mart), the group behind the demonstrations tells the stories of employees being fired after speaking out against low wages, unfair treatment, or poor and unsafe working conditions. These stories stand in stark contrast the retailer’s official remarks. Company spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said in the WaPo article that there was “nothing but opportunity at Wal-Mart.”