Workers strike as D.C. city council defies Walmart on wages

WASHINGTON – Action involving low-wage workers in the Nation’s Capital heated up on July 10-11, as a second group of low-wage restaurant workers staged a one-day strike, while the D.C. City Council defied Walmart’s demand for low wages for workers in its proposed stores there, and approved a “big box” living wage ordinance.

Both actions reflect rising activism by exploited low-wage workers nationwide, as one-day strikes have hit not just fast food eateries and retailers in major cities, but Walmart and its oppressive unhealthy warehouses. A living wage is key for both groups.

The restaurant workers serve in fast food eateries in the Smithsonian’s museums. Good Jobs Nation, the same union-supported group that backed other 1-day walkouts by low-paid fast food and retail workers in Chicago, New York, St. Louis, Detroit and, two weeks ago, D.C., organized, marshaled and supported them.

Like their other colleagues, who toil for Subway and other fast food providers in the Ronald Reagan building’s food court – in a building the federal government technically manages – the Smithsonian workers said they’re exploited, underpaid and often cheated of pay. They walked out of their Smithsonian jobs on July 11.

The Smithsonian fast food workers marched from their food court at the Air and Space Museum to the Smithsonian Castle – its headquarters — to hand-deliver a petition demanding presidential action to guarantee a living wage at their restaurants. They also then told reporters of the huge difference between their minimum wages, CEO pay for the fast food chains’ bosses, and federal contractor pay.

“I worked at the McDonald’s in the Air and Space Museum for nine years, and while my employer and the government make lots of money off of my work, I still only make $8 an hour,” Ana Hernandez, a single mother of five children, told the press.

“Imagine trying to raise your family on $11,000 a year. You have to make hard choices, like putting food on the table or paying the bills. Having electricity or buying clothes for your children. We deserve a living wage for the hard work we do.”

The day before, the D.C. City Council voted 8-5 to set a $12.50 living wage for employees of “big box” stores with at least $1 billion in retail sales nationwide and with stores of at least 75,000 square feet in D.C. Stores with union contracts are exempt.

Walmart, which announced plans to build six D.C. stores, was their target. The vicious monster, known for its low wages and lousy benefits, sent a high-powered lobbying team to D.C. to threaten to dump at least three of the planned stores, all in lower-income areas. But unions, community groups, and religious groups all pushed the living wage bill, and the council heeded them, not Walmart.

Metro D.C. Central Labor Council President Joslyn Williams said Walmart engaged in “a desperate last-ditch attempt to blackmail council members…The ‘kinder, gentler’ Walmart that professed so much interest in good jobs, shopping, and foods for our community returned to the kind of brazen intimidation and steamroller tactics we’ve seen across the country and, indeed, around the world.”

Photo: J Pat Carter/AP


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.