The giant retailer is once again trying to open a superstore in the South L.A. area after being rejected a few years ago by the voters in the city of Inglewood. What’s changed?
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Managing Editor
Wal-Mart is recognized as the biggest retailer in the world; its business tentacles are believed to reach into all the continents, and it exudes a policy that what Wal-Mart wants, Wal-mart gets. In Bentonville, Arkansas, where Wal-Mart was founded, sources say, it has been referred to as ‘the bully of Bentonville.’ Justified or not, those are some of the facts.
There is so much controversy swirling around the giant retailer that the Wal-Mart culture has given rise to an organization called ‘Walmart Watch.” According to its website, its purpose is to hold Walmart fully accountable for its impact on communities, the American workforce, the retail sector, the environment and the nation’s economy. Walmart Watch exists to challenge Walmart to more fully embrace its corporate responsibilities and live up to its position as the largest corporation in the United States.
To buttress its actions of keeping a watchful eye on Wal-Mart, the organization states that it achieves its mission on behalf of communities and the American workforce through research, rigorous analysis of Walmart’s wages, benefits and impact on communities, and education efforts for policymakers, media, academia and the public.
Recently representatives from Wal-Mart met with members of the Black community to ‘test the waters’ in preparing to build a superstore in the South Los Angeles area. The meeting was called by the local NAACP president, Leon Jenkins and it was well attended by a cross-section of the community representing the clergy, business, education, politics, the employed and the unemployed. Wal-Mart was also well represented; there were a vice president, store manager, attorney, regional trouble-shooters, human resources personnel and employee relations. The exchange was very civil, cordial and informative.
Though the meeting lasted over an hour and a half, it appeared that it did not change any or many minds. Neither the attendees nor the Wal-Mart reps seemed to have left with a different mindset than when they came, despite the exchange of information.
In commenting about the meeting, Jenkins, the host said, “It’s a good thing that Wal-Mart want to build a store in South L.A. for a number of reasons, number one being if we get the benefit of jobs which is lacking in our community – the unemployment rate among African Americans is 50 percent – they (Wal-Mart) will bring permanent jobs; they will also bring construction jobs because the African American construction worker has been harder than any other sub-group. We get that and we get quality food, and fresh vegetables at the most reasonable price than any other store in our community.
“By the way, we don’t have any stores in our community that could provide us with fresh food and vegetables without driving a tremendous distance from where we live,” Jenkins continued. “Plus the other merchandise that they sell is very competitive and below cost than where we can buy them in any other part of our city.”
Sometime after the meeting was terminated, in commenting on the meeting and his past experiences with Wal-Mart, Danny Tabor, former mayor and city councilman of Inglewood (where Wal-Mart tried to build a superstore) had a different view of the giant retailer. Tabor said, “My view has not changed; Wal-Mart, in their business practices, as current lawsuits has demonstrated, is both a pariah in communities, and disrespectful of its workforce. In Inglewood, the voters turned them (Wal-Mart) away two-to-one in the election in 2004. (Now) if they want to come to Inglewood and build a regular Wal-Mart store, they have every right to do that. They could go through the permit and planning process like any other developer or any other store, and the process will protect the residents from anything that might be detrimental.”
Jenkins went on to say, “If we do not welcome Wal-Mart in our community, Wal-Mart will put that superstore in another community, that is not predominantly African American, and we would still drive to that place. So if we can’t stop our people from shopping at Wal-Mart, wemight as well get all the benefits of having a Wal-Mart in our city.”
Continuing, Tabor said, “But if they want to build a superstore, they have to do the same thing (as mentioned above) and there is an ordinance that protects the residents and the small business community in Inglewood from their unfair business practices.” In responding to the jobs that some say will result from the superstore, Tabor went on, “We have enough minimum wage jobs. What Inglewood needs is not just minimum wage jobs, we need jobs that will pay middle class salaries.”
Then Jenkins also stated, “Wal-Mart is the only major retailer that has ‘ban the box’ which means on their application, due to negotiations with NAACP, they have taken out a reference to whether a person has been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor. And that lets the managers and other supervisors look at the person first, and interview that person to see whether that person has the quality, the integrity and the skills to work for Wal-Mart.”
Larry Aubry has been active in the community for years, in education, politics and anything that impacts the quality of life in the community.
His take on Wal-Mart was that it has a universal reputation of discrimination and unfair labor practices wherever it has a store.
Furthermore, there are a number of African Americans, particularly African American women, who have filed suit against the retailer for unfair employment practices. Aubry said, “With me it’s not only philosophical, it’s a civil rights concern and that should not be minimized. It is contradictory to our leadership to support those (Wal-Mart) who discriminate against our people.”
According to Wal-Mart, they have just begun and it will probably takes years to build a superstore in the South Los Angeles area. Meanwhile, much work needs to be done among the residents before any construction can take place.