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.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
(Photo: Thomas Cooper/Getty Images)
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