What better way to help communities in need of work than to invoke an angry flash-mob targeting a major retailer that offers nearby residents... jobs?
Well, that is precisely what happened in Laurel, Maryland, when an activist group called "Respect DC" recently turned up at a local Walmart to deliver an ultimatum to the retail giant: give your employees high wages and top-notch benefits, or else. It is perhaps also worth noting that RDC's politically-charged flash mob was promoted on the SEIU Youtube page.
To deliver its message, the group's medium was a jazz performance of Aretha Franklin's famed song "R.E.S.P.E.C.T." In the flash-mobber's re-worked song lyrics, RDC apparently wants Walmart to promise, along with great pay and other benefits, retirement pensions for all its employees:
"What you want, Walmart you got it. What you need, you know we got it. All we're asking is for a little respect if you come to D.C.... We ain't gonna give you all our money, unless you give us some retirement, honey."
According to RDC, Walmart needs to "show respect" to the neighborhoods in which the retail giant plans to open new stores by meeting with "community leaders" to whom it will "guarantee," in writing no less, to "improve" the quality of life for its employees. The RDC website explains the intent of its flash mob:
More than 100 DC residents and members of our coalition held a flash mob at the Laurel, Md., Walmart, to demonstrate the depth of support for an enforceable community benefits agreement before the world’s largest retailer is allowed to enter the nation’s capital. Accompanied by a brass band and chorus, the participants sang out, “All we’re asking is for Respect (Prove you mean it)”.
Did they say "allowed?"
Watch the video of the flash mob below:
In fact, RDC's sole mission as stated in its charter is to "educate" community leaders about Walmart's "checkered" track record of:
...paying poverty-level wages, forcing competitors to close, causing a net loss of jobs, breaking its promises, and multiple lawsuits alleging that the company discriminates against female employees and engages in wage theft, including the the largest sex discrimination class action in U.S history.
RDC then goes on to literally "ensure" that "no Walmart" will be built in the D.C. metro area unless the advocacy group's demands are met.
How the group intends to deliver on that promise, however, still remains unclear.
And some might argue that, just by its very presence, Walmart and similar retail chains improve quality of life for people in their respective communities by offering an abundance of job opportunities and by contributing to the local economy. Even if Walmart were to pay only minimum wage, can that really be considered "poverty-wages?"
One also wonders how a company that employs a reported 2 million people worldwide causes a "net loss" of jobs anywhere it operates.
Not surprisingly, RDC claimed one Walmart employee was "touched" by the group's presence and public display of concern.
"When I saw the large crowd, heard the band and the words, I couldn't believe it," said Alan Barber, an associate at the Laurel Walmart, according to RespectDC.org. "But then to listen to their words -- that associates should be respected, too -- that really touched me, because we don't get the respect we deserve at work. Management overworks and underpays us, and then makes things worse by creating a climate of fear so most associates are too afraid to demand better treatment."
It might also be worth noting that RDC has yet to make similar demands on any other retailer, large or small. Does Walmart really deserve to be singled out? Or is it just a matter of time before Target and other non-unionized retailers are on the receiving end of an angry flash-mob?