If Walmart tries to open a store in New York (Brooklyn, to be specific), it will be fought by politicians, business, labor and citizens, as each group made its opposition clear at a recent hearing. Citing the company's history of hiring and promoting with prejudice, paying unlivable wages, discouraging unionization and failing to support local economies, Council Speaker Christine Quinn told Walmart, "You cannot come to New York City and behave the way you have behaved in other parts of the country."
Outside the hearing concerning Walmart's business practices, approximately two hundred protesters clogged the north side of Chambers Street, forcing pedestrians into the street. Passersby appeared confused, apathetic or bored. "Not exactly the streets of Cairo," one guy cracked as demonstrators chanted slogans like "Walmart-Free, N-Y-C!" The harshest anti-Walmart rhetoric, however, was to be found inside, where African-American Councilmember Charles Barron (East New York) called the company a "roving plantation." "There are no slaves in East New York," he said. "We will not be your slave workers."
Walmart did not send a representative to the meeting, though the council eagerly invited them, explaining that it felt unfairly singled out. But many didn't buy that. "Walmart is not your ordinary big box retailer," said co-chair Karen Koslowitz (Forest Hills). "It is in a category by itself." Speaker Quinn noted that Walmart's revenues last year were equal almost to those of Exxon-Mobil and Chevron combined, far outpacing those of retail rivals like Target.
Walmart did, however, seem to send phantom representatives to be its eyes, ears, hands and mouth—someone collected reporters' business cards, promising to send more information, while someone else handed out the community affairs division's info packet; a representative of "Walmart 2 NYC," Tony Herbert from Bedford-Stuyvesant, was on hand to offer anti-union, pro-choice talking points to reporters. "This is America," he said. "It should be our choice where we work and shop." Herbert said that if the company promised, as it has, to involve the community in planning decisions and to create jobs, he supported it.
But history shows that opening a Walmart would not likely create jobs. After a store opened recently in Chicago, small business closures increased; stores closer to Walmart were more likely to shutter, according to a study by Professor David Merriman of the University of Illinois, who testified by video link. He said that, in Chicago, jobs were a "net wash"—for every one the company created, another was lost. A different study, cited later, found that for every two jobs that a Walmart creates, three are lost. (Walmart's packet included several op-eds that refuted these findings with "common sense." "Walmart has been a boon to my constituents," Alderman Emma Mitts wrote in the Daily News. "No academic research... will convince me otherwise." Another pro-Walmart op-ed writer prefaced her rebuttal of a Loyola study that blamed Walmart for business closures in Austin by writing, "I am neither a mathematician nor a statistician. But I am a â�‚��œcommon-sense-tician'...")
Walmart poses a larger problem: the indirect effects of its failure to integrate itself within the local economy. Local retailers depend on each other: they do their printing at the local print shop, for example. But Walmart has its own national distribution chains that cut these businesses out. With local businesses, 54 cents of every dollar spent goes back into the community, according to a study cited at the hearing. For every dollar spent at a Walmart, only 14 cents does. A representative of independent supermarkets explained to the committee what effect this would have in Brooklyn. "Walmart," he said, "is going to make a desert out of Pennsylvania Avenue."
And that would only be the beginning.