D.C. Council stands for fair wages and against Wal-Mart

By:  Harold Meyerson

For Republicans who want to cut the number of food stamp recipients, here’s a helpful suggestion: Support the ordinance passed last week by the D.C. Council, which required big-box stores like Wal-Mart to pay their employees at least $12.50 an hour.

On average, Wal-Mart pays its workers $12.67 an hour — which means that a huge number of its 1.4 million U.S. employees make a good deal less than that. By paying so little, the Bentonville behemoth compels thousands of its employees to use food stamps to feed their families and Medicaid to pay their doctor bills. It compels taxpayers to pick up a tab that wouldn’t even exist if the company paid its workers enough to get them out of poverty.

How many such workers go on the public rolls? Some states occasionally survey where those employees work, and Wal-Mart almost invariably tops their lists. An Ohio tally in 2009, for instance, found that 15,246 Wal-Mart workers were Medicaid recipients and 12,731 were on food stamps. (McDonald’s came in second in each category.)

Last week’s vote by the D.C. Council was just the latest round in the ongoing battle over whether Wal-Mart can open stores in the nation’s largest Northeastern and West Coast cities. The chain has encountered fierce resistance as it has sought to move into New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and now the nation’s capital. Elected officials in those cities have feared that America’s largest low-wage employer would compel long-established local retailers — most particularly, unionized supermarkets — to lower their wages.

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