AirTalk for September 6, 2012

Walmart in Chinatown? Not so fast…

Tim Boyle/Getty Images

The exterior of a Walmart.

Plans for a Walmart in Chinatown may be derailed if two groups have their way. The Asian Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union have long opposed the big-box retailer because of its non-union labor practices.

In July the two groups sued the city of Los Angeles, claiming it pushed Walmart’s building permit through without sufficient environmental review; that court date is set for November. The retail chain hasn’t let that stop them from building, and construction is already underway for their Chinatown store. The two labor groups are now seeking a judge’s order for Walmart to halt construction until the court date. They’ll present their request Friday morning.

Meanwhile, construction workers from the Walmart site are demonstrating this morning to protest the potential work stoppage. A group of about 25, organized by a large PR company, spoke about how they would personally be impacted if construction is stalled. Walmart spokesperson Stephen Restivo told AirTalk that if the court votes to pause building, over 100 construction workers will be out of a job a few hours later.

"This ruling is not about a grocery store, it's not about labor special interests; it's all about people who are being employed, who are earning a living, who are caught in the middle of this political fight," he continued.

According to Restivo, the permits were issued validly by the city, and he anticipates a favorable ruling. He added that many downtown residents want the Walmart store there.

"I think some of the louder voices in this discussion just don't represent the majority opinion, and that fact will come to life the day our store opens, as thousands and thousands of local residents vote for our store with their feet," he said.

He went on to say that contrary to dissenters, Walmart will improve the area's economy.

"Residents just want a store in their community from a brand they trust that's going to treat them well, offer them low prices and have a positive impact," he said. "Our store is going to do all these things and more. It's moving into a space that's zoned for grocery that's been underutilized for close to 20 years, and so we see our store having a positive economic ripple effect across the entire downtown region."

Gideon Krakov, attorney representing the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, rebutted that though Walmart talks about saving jobs, the corporation fails to look at the jobs that will be lost when smaller businesses find they can't compete with Walmart's "race-to-the-bottom" pricing approach.

"Let's talk about the other side of the equation. Those thousands of jobs that are being lost at Albertsons – that has to be factored into this too.

He said that the case is about transparency and the rule of the law.

"If this project is constructed before either the city officials had a hearing, or the court gets to weigh in, I think that's fundamentally unfair. If Walmart is so confident that this is such a great project and that it's warranted in that community, it shouldn't have a problem with either the city or the court weighing its actions," he said.

Krakov is similarly confident the court will rule in his client's favor.

"Walmart is not above the law, no matter how powerful it is. It's really one of the crown jewels of the legal system. We filed our injunction motion back in July," he said. "Even since it started construction, Walmart knew that it proceeded at its own risk."

WEIGH IN:

Is a judge likely to rule for the city in favor of Walmart, or those opposed to building? And what about the jobs that will be nixed if construction does stop? How determined is Walmart to stake a claim in Chinatown?

Guests:

Alice Walton, KPCC government reporter

Steven Restivo, Walmart spokesperson

Gideon Krakov, attorney representing the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance


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