Housing Complex

Ways In Which Walmart’s Community Partnership Thingy Is And Isn’t “Unprecedented”

Coming to six locations near you. (Darrow Montgomery)

It's possible noone cares about this anymore, but I've been meaning to write it for a week, so here it is.

Boning up for last week's turn on the Kojo Nnamdi show to talk about the "Community Partnership Initiative" that the city recently signed with Walmart, I wanted to know how it stacked up against ones that the retailer had signed in other cities, given that Mayor Vince Gray had called it an "unprecedented" effort. Well, it might have been unprecedented for the city—although developers are required to provide a community benefits package through the planned unit development process, I'm not aware of a large retailer signing even a non-binding agreement for how it will build and operate its stores.

But the agreement certainly isn't unprecedented for Walmart. In fact, it's pretty standard practice.

So far, the company has done most of its document signing in Chicago, where it plans to open several dozen stores over the next few years. To win assent from the city council for a second store in Pullman, Walmart agreed to pay retail workers no less than $8.75 per hour—fifty cents higher than the Illinois minimum wage—and build all of its stores with union labor (Chicago's construction unions are a lot stronger than D.C.'s, which got nothing out of the Walmart negotiations). They're calling the five-year plan for the city a “Chicago Community Investment Partnership," with projected numbers for jobs and sales tax revenue.

In addition, Walmart did a "Community Benefits Memo" with just the Pullman Park community. That's the list that looks most like what Gray signed a couple weeks ago: A lot of promises to "work with" the city to increase the amount of local and minority hiring and contracting, and a lot of statements about what the company already does for workers in wages and benefits, but no actual commitments. Some of the sections are copied almost word for word, including the clause at the end about everything in the document being "subject and contingent upon business conditions that will continue to ensure a productive relationship with the city and its residents."

D.C.'s document includes a few more goodies, like $21 million in charitable donations divided up among 600,000 residents vs. Chicago's $20 million between 2.9 million residents, community advisory groups for each store, and $3 million for a workforce training program. But in large part, it looks like Walmart presented D.C. with a document and said "take it or leave it."

And of course, as Nnamdi nailed down in his questioning, it's all on Walmart to deliver.

"Is this Community Partnership Initiative binding in any way whatsoever?" he asked Walmart spokesman Steve Restivo.

"Well, I mean, it certainly is to us in that it's a public document," Restivo replied. "It's black and white. It's on our website. It's there for anyone to read and we expect quite frankly to be held accountable for every syllable in it or else my guess is we'll get run out of town if we don't commit to those things we put forth in that agreement. So to us we expect to be held accountable. We intend to follow through on every single item in that agreement and so we think it's an important and unprecedented agreement for the city."

"You're saying essentially that Wal-Mart's word is the assurance that we have?"