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Will Baltimore Make Walmart Pay a Living Wage?
Change.org
Amanda Kloer

May 5, 2010
View the Original Article


Baltimore City is currently considering a bill which would require major retailers — any company making more than $10 million a year in profit — to pay workers a "living wage" of at least $10 per hour. Is this a courageous and innovative stand for workers' rights? Or is it a transparent attempt to keep a Walmart store at bay? Or is it maybe a little of both?

The idea of a living wage is old hat to Charm City residents. Baltimore was the first city in the country to require that all city government workers be paid not just minimum wage, but a "living wage." The living wage movement is based on the idea that in many parts of the country, it's impossible to survive on a minimum wage job. In Baltimore, a modest two-bedroom apartment can easily run $800 to $1000 per month. For a single mother with two kids working 40 hours a week and making minimum wage, that averages out to around $1200 a month in pay. That's barely enough money to pay rent. So increasingly, people are looking to set the wage floor at a level where those making it can live modestly.

The new proposal to require all major retailers to pay a "living wage" of $12.25 an hour comes just as a new Walmart store is looking to open in the city. And critics have claimed proposing a living wage is just an attempt to keep Walmart out. But I have to ask both the critics and the supporters of Baltimore' living wage: are you really surprised this debate is centering around Walmart?

Walmart, whose brand is almost synonymous with some of the most creatively devious schemes to reduce worker pay and benefits. Walmart, whose business model is based on the idea that selling cheap goods made in foreign sweatshops is the best way to turn a profit. If ever there was an argument for a living wage law, it is the example of Walmart, the store constantly voted most-likely-to-sell-out-workers.

I think the real question isn't whether the people behind the idea of a living wage are pro- or anti-Walmart. It's why the living wage idea hasn't caught fire in more places. Advocates of a living wage have only pushed for it to be applied to those who can afford it, like corporations who make more money than most countries in the world. So maybe promoting a living wage is taking a stand on behalf of workers and trying to keep a company known for exploiting workers from opening another store.

Is there a living wage law where you live? If not, ask your local government why there isn't.