Labor leaders,** small business owners and elected officials took aim at Walmart’s plan to open shop in New York City Thursday, first at a rally on the steps of City Hall and then at a City Council oversight hearing.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn called Walmart a small business killer at the rally. At the afternoon hearing, she said she was deeply disappointed that Walmart decided to skip the proceedings. She dismissed the retailer’s claim that it was not participating because the Council refused to focus on national retailers that already exist in the city.
Walmart is like no other company in the world, she said. No other company has the revenue, power and size to move the market the way it does.
In recent months, Walmart has waged an aggressive campaign to build support for a potential entry into the city, taking to the airwaves, Internet and streets. But it made it clear that company officials would not testify at the hearing, calling it a hypothetical exercise that ignored the impact of existing big box stores. It instead sent the council a four-page letter and video arguing it plays a positive role in communities.
About 300 union members and political activists joined dozens of elected officials at the City Hall rally, chanting Don’t believe the hypeWalmart we must fight and carrying signs that read I love NYC, Keep it Walmart Free and "Walmart Destroys Small Businesses.
Central Labor Council President Jack Ahern called on Walmart to agree to be monitored by an independent oversight committee that would ensure workers have a right to union representation. He also said the City Council should form a committee to ensure that Walmart operates within the city’s labor laws.
The workers deserve an opportunity to stand with the rest of the unionized workforce in New York City, he said.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio called Walmart a Trojan Horse that would come into the city in shiny packaging, but end up destroying neighborhoods.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn attended a loud rally to oppose Wal-mart Stores Inc.’s entry into New York City. Following the rally, proponents of the retailer showed up at the hearing bearing three boxes filled with petitions containing 30,000 signatures from city residents in favor of the stores. Tony Herbert, chairman of the Brooklyn chapter of the Walmart2NYC campaign, said 50 volunteers collected the signatures over the past three weeks.
At the end of the day we have a lot of people suffering, he said. I think Walmart brings an opportunity for jobs.
After opening statements from Ms. Quinn and the three committee chairs presiding over the hearing, the audience heard from David Merriman, a professor of public administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who studied the impact on local businesses of a Walmart that opened in Chicago.
We find evidence that the Chicago Walmart displaced many neighborhood businesses and in doing so displaced a number of jobs about equal to those it directly generated, he told the Council.
Walmart representatives passed out an analysis it commissioned on the study, which argues that Mr. Merriman’s methodology was flawed because it did not take into account new businesses that opened in the area. Chase Bank, Bank of America, CVS and Conway’s were among businesses that followed Walmart into the West Side of Chicago, the Walmart-funded analysis showed.
Small business owners also spoke to the Council, saying they would be driven out of business if Walmart opened up shop in the city. Charles Fisher, the head of the Walmart2NYC campaign, was expected to testify in favor of Walmart later in the hearing.
Also Thursday, opponents of Walmart launched askwalmart.com, a Website focused on the retailer’s impact on small businesses, jobs and workers. The site blasts Walmart for declining to appear at the hearing and encourages New Yorkers to submit their questions to the retailer.
**Including Make the Road New York (MRNY).
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