WashPost's DePillis Notes Labor Unions Wrote D.C.'s Anti-Walmart Bill

On Thursday, my colleague Jeffrey Meyer noted how the Washington Post's Mike DeBonis failed to explain to readers how unionized retail outlets would benefit from an exemption in the cynically-titled Large Retailer Accountability Act, the D.C. Council bill that would require large retail chains like Walmart to pay employees at least $12.50/hour.

Today, to their credit, Post editors did publish a 12-paragraph piece by the Post's Lydia DePillis, who noted that it was "labor leaders" who "drafted the bill originally" and attempted to blackmail Walmart, saying "they would pull the bill if" the company "agreed to collective bargaining." DePillis also quoted an anonymous source on a city councilman's staff explaining "when all labor pulls in one direction, that is a powerful thing to this council." All the same, DePillis still failed to explain just how pro-union and anti-worker's rights the Act would be, nor did she quote any opponents of the bill in her story.

"If the measure stands, whether or not Wal-Mart follows through on its threat to leave D.C., unions will have avoided their nightmare scenario. Having a low-wage, non-union competitor figuring into future bargaining sessions with the area’s unionized grocers," DePillis observed, couching labor unions as a victim of more competition and lower prices in the retail sector in the District. Of course, the average consumer, particularly the cash-strapped consumer, would benefit, but DePillis failed to find anyone to represent that perspective.

Instead, DePillis proceeded to quote AFL-CIO official Joslyn Williams saying, that if Walmart builds stores in the District and succeeds in drawing customers, that “Giant and Safeway [would] be saying we’re losing money, we need givebacks from the workers."

A few paragraphs earlier, DePillis quoted another labor activist, Mike Wilson of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union giving his analysis about mayoral candidate Councilman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) simultaneously backing the pro-union bill while also supporting lower sales taxes in the city budget. "I think that he's thinking the real reason businesses come to the city is that there are incentives in place, Wilson said. That may be true, but it's also quite likely that Evans's calculus isn't designed so much on economic development but on some sort of balancing act where he can win over labor union voters but keep enough other business interests happy that he gets their campaign contributions.

At any rate, no Walmart official was quoted in the entire piece, nor any average Joe on the street for his opinion.

What's more, once again, the Post failed to note how the Large Retailer Accountability Act actually disempowers the individual employee by forbidding individual workers from making wage and benefit negotiations with a large retailer which yield a pay rate lower than the $12.50 minimum.

Here's the relevant text from the bill (emphasis mine):

Any waiver by an individual of any of the provisions of this act shall be deemed contrary to public policy and shall be void and unenforceable, except that employees are not barred from entering into a written valid collective bargaining agreement waiving provisions of this act if such waiver is set forth in clear and unambiguous terms.

So it's fine and dandy to labor union activists and liberal Democratic councilmen for a retail employee in Washington, D.C., to get paid less than $12.50/hour "living wage" under the bill, just so long as it's through a union labor-derived collective bargaining agreement, which naturally means joining a union and paying dues to the same.

The law in question expressly forbids and declares null and void any personal arrangements and negotiations an employee could arrive at with his employer. The rights of contract of both the worker and the employer are infringed by the law, but the Post fails to see how the little guy can be a victim in all this.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.