The relatively small town of Athens, Georgia, is stuck in a Wal-Mart battle. Athens is nearly 30 percent African-American, and Black leaders from both sides of the argument are stuck trying to figure out what to do about a proposal to build a Wal-Mart near the city’s downtown area.
One the one hand, leaders argue what many have in the past: that Wal-Mart creates jobs by destroying jobs in small businesses, and that Wal-Mart treats employees like garbage in an effort to save money. The counterargument to that is one that’s hard to fight: Even if they’re bad, low-paying jobs, Wal-Mart jobs are jobs, and unemployed people will take them. It’s the “any port in a storm” mentality, and it’s tearing Athens apart.
“Clarke County is facing a nearly 40 percent poverty rate,” an Athens resident named Hope Iglehart told the Athens-Clarke County Commission on Tuesday night. “We feel the [Wal-Mart] will combat that rate by providing jobs.”
In addition to its reputation as a killer of small businesses, Wal-Mart has a bad reputation in some circles for how it allegedly treats its workers.
In late January, 500 women, many of them African-Americans from the South, filed discrimination charges with the national Equal Opportunity and Employment Commission. The women continue to allege that Wal-Mart shows bias when it comes to raises and promotion opportunities.
And last summer, one million former Wal-Mart employees, all of them female, were dejected when the Supreme Court threw out their lawsuit against the mega-corporation where they once worked. The women had claimed that Wal-Mart practiced gender discrimination against women, but the high court disagreed, saying in its decision that the plaintiffs “provide no convincing proof of a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy.”
But the lawsuits likely won’t have an effect on what happens in Athens.
There was no real verdict following the Athens-Clarke County Commission meeting on Tuesday, but there was a very clear tension in the air between what’s best for the Black community: bad jobs or no jobs at all. That’s the sad decision many Americans are forced to make in these ugly times.
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(Photo: Thomas Cooper/Getty Images)