Last week a Superior Court judge dismissed a final attempt by community groups to score a victory against the Walmart grocery market that opened in Chinatown last year. The groups’ complaint against Walmart brings up a number of factors that undermine the validity of the Chinatown store’s permits. These include zoning and redevelopment requirements that have not been met, poor record keeping by the City, the lack of current California Environmental Quality Act information about the neighborhood, and the fact that the permits were issued the day before a City Council hearing that could have halted the project.
Walmart has long occupied center stage in the national debate about income inequality because of its low wage jobs and ruthless ability to undercut small local businesses. How, then, did the retail giant plant a 33,000-square-foot flag in the middle of Los Angeles’ urban core, despite long-established safeguards designed to protect the unique neighborhood character of places like Chinatown?
Walmart’s 1.3 million workers won a big victory Monday when the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the retail giant had broken the law by firing and harassing employees who spoke out—and in some cases went on strike—to protest the company’s poverty pay and abusive labor practices.
The federal agency will prosecute Walmart’s illegal firings and disciplinary actions involving more than 117 workers, including those who went on strike last June as part of a growing movement of company employees. The ruling is likely to accelerate the burgeoning protest movement among Walmart employees, upset with low pay, stingy benefits, arbitrary work schedules and part-time jobs.
Over the past year, protests against the world’s largest private employer have escalated, led by OUR Walmart, a nationwide network of Walmart workers. Last fall, the group announced that it would hold rallies outside Walmart stores in dozens of cities on the day after Thanksgiving—the busiest shopping day of the year,
On Sunday, November 3, the Los Angeles Times ran a 429-word story, “Wal-Mart kicks off Christmas way early, helping to kill Black Friday,” on the retail giant’s plan to entice customers to do their Christmas shopping early by marking down prices weeks before the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving bargains. Providing Walmart with tens of thousands of dollars of free advertising, the story reported that “Deals include 36 percent savings on a JVC 42-inch LED television and 51 percent savings on a 10-inch Xelio tablet — at $299 for the TV and $49 for the tablet, those are the lowest tags Wal-Mart has ever put on those products.” Surely this is the kind of “news” that a Walmart PR executive drools over.
In contrast, the Times’ coverage of last Thursday’s anti-Walmart protest — one of the largest local civil disobedience actions in the company’s history — garnered a puny 163-word story,
Apparently Walmart, the country’s largest — and, some say, stingiest — private employer thought its troubles at the new Chinatown grocery center were over once it opened for business in September. That, however, was corporate wishful thinking in serious need of a cleanup in aisle three. Today, November 7, the community coalition that opposed Walmart’s original entry into the historic neighborhood will be demonstrating against the mega-chain’s continued abuse of its low-paid employees. The event will culminate with the arrest of 100 men and women in front of the store.
Their immediate goal is to draw attention to Walmart’s strategy of maximizing profits by scheduling its workers for the minimum number of hours possible and by encouraging them to apply for food stamps and other tax-funded programs to supplement their meager paychecks. (Not to mention firing dissident workers.) But organizers also hope to build momentum for nationwide protests against Walmart scheduled to take place in three weeks.
Today Walmart opened its newest supermarket, a 33,000-square-foot “grocery store” on the Chinatown corner of Cesar Chavez and Grand avenues. It’s a stone’s throw from Our Lady of the Angels’ stained-glass windows and within shouting distance of dozens of small local businesses now threatened with extinction. Local community groups had fought Walmart’s arrival as a corporate intrusion into the historic neighborhood – the store represents the retail giant’s deepest penetration into urban Los Angeles yet.
For now the new store’s critics and business competitors await the worst.
“It’s just sad for a small economy like Chinatown’s to have a large national chain whose money is going out of state and not staying in the community,” says Steven Y. Wong, interim executive director of Los Angeles’ Chinese American Museum. Wong, who says that his comments are his private opinions and not those of the museum, adds that the store “drastically changes the character of the neighborhood and will have a long-term,