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D.C. residents turn a wary eye to Walmart's job promises

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Photo - The Walmart development site on Georgia Avenue and Missouri Avenue NW.
The Walmart development site on Georgia Avenue and Missouri Avenue NW.
Local,DC,Liz Farmer

As Walmart's plans to build six stores in the District drag on, some residents say they are worried the mega-retailer won't stick to its commitment to hiring local workers -- and that there's nothing the city can do about it.

"They say, 'We intend to do these things,' but when we push them on it and ask then, 'Can you give us a goal or a percentage you're trying to meet?' they're not interested in doing that," said Michael Wilson, a spokesman for Respect DC, a fair wages group that has been outspoken about Walmart.

The retailer, which has promised more than 2,000 new jobs in the area, already has not been able to keep the initial timeline it set for itself when it first announced it would open stores in the District. The timetable was pushed back by at least a year, with just one store now slated for opening at the end of 2013.

But a Walmart spokesman pointed to the company's Community Partnership Initiative, an agreement it reached with city officials last fall on its local commitment. The agreement says Walmart will open job centers in each of the four wards it is opening a store and that it will consult local officials on holding job fairs before each store opening. It also says Walmart's construction department will "encourage" its general contractors to spend 35 percent of the procurement dollars on local minority businesses and requires monthly reports on that procurement goal.

"Our voluntary, unprecedented agreement is proof of our commitment to the residents of the District of Columbia and sets forth the foundation for a partnership now and in the years to come," said spokesman Steven Restivo.

Because Walmart is moving in via land deals with private owners, the company is not required to reach any type of agreement with the city. However, that means the District has few tools at its disposal to make life tough for the retailer if it doesn't meet these goals.

Jose Sousa, a spokesman for the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said Walmart met with city officials for a year before reaching the agreement.

"We are confident that they will deliver," he said.

But Wilson said in other cities, officials have been outwardly skeptical. When Walmart announced plans in Boston last September, Mayor Thomas Menino was quoted saying Walmart makes "all the mom and pop stores disappear."

"In D.C., no one's been willing to [say] that," Wilson said.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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