An impending showdown in Los Angeles pits Walmart against community activists who decry expansion plans by the world’s largest retailer in the nation’s second-largest city.

At the heart of a protest set for June 30 in Los Angeles are charges of poverty wages, inadequate health care, hazardous working conditions and discriminatory labor practices at the company, which employs some 2.2 million people worldwide. Such concerns are accompanied by fears of mom-and-pop stores being put out of business.
More than 100 L.A. residents and community leaders recently gathered in front of the proposed Walmart site in the city’s Chinatown section to promote the rally, which they say will be the largest of its kind against Walmart in the United States. Organized labor has asked elected officials in Los Angeles County to return Walmart money and reject future contributions.
Katherine Spillar, executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, called the company’s track record “shameful,” adding in a prepared statement: “Until Walmart proves that it can operate as a responsible employer, we will vigorously oppose its expansion in Los Angeles and other parts of the country.”

Walmart claimed in 2009 that 52% of its 1.4 million U.S. employees received health care coverage at work, but have not disclosed coverage rates since then, according to MakingChangeAtWalmart.org. The same group also notes that the retailer this year stopped offering health insurance to part-time employees and hiked premiums for full-time employees by as much as 63% for non-smokers and their families and a whopping 162% for smokers with families.

However, Walmart spokesman Steven Restivo has countered that the retailer’s wages and benefits “meet or exceed those offered by a majority of our competitors.”

Making Change at Walmart also estimates that that the retailer would need to build 212 stores in Los Angeles in order to reach its national market share, which could result in a net loss of 8,744 retail jobs and more than $621 million in wages per year for retailer workers who still have jobs in across Los Angeles County.

Restivo believes most of these conclusions are based on flawed methodology and “shows the depths to which [Making Change at Walmart] will sink to try and manipulate reality.”

Walmart is among selected 18 organizations that will participate this summer in the Financial Fitness Challenge sponsored by Employee Benefit News and Employee Benefit Adviser in partnership with Educated Investor. The program seeks to strengthen the mind-body connection with a proven and affordable way to make financial education fun, engaging and successful.

Bruce Shutan, a former EBN managing editor, is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

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