CITY NEWS SERVICE
A coalition of labor groups on Thursday announced a lawsuit seeking to block Wal-Mart from opening a neighborhood grocery store in the Chinatown area of Los Angeles.
The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and United Food Workers Local 770 jointly filed the suit, which alleges the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety failed to notify the public of its decision to exempt the Wal-Mart project from an environmental review.
The plaintiffs want a judge to halt construction on the 33,000-square-foot grocery store on the northwest corner of Cesar E. Chavez and Grand avenues, which began the week before.
“It appears Wal-Mart received a special exemption from the city releasing it from the requirements many other smaller businesses must comply with. In accordance with California law, and in order to avoid the appearance of backroom deals, the city is required to notify the public of these special exemptions,” said Jan Tokumaru with APALA. “The city failed to notify the public.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Building and Safety was not immediately available for comment on Tokumaru’s charge that department officials declined the group’s request for proof that public notice of the exemption was made on time.
“The public deserves transparency regarding what is happening,” said King Cheung, a member of the Chinatown Community for Equitable Development. “Why is this city agency being so secretive?”
Wal-Mart Senior Director of Community Affairs Steven Restivo described the suit’s backers as special interest groups that are trying to block jobs and are ignoring members of the Chinatown community who want the grocery store.
“As if ignoring the wishes of many in the community weren’t enough, now it seems the special interests want to take on the city, all in an effort to block jobs, revitalization and affordable groceries from coming to a building that’s been dormant for two decades,” Restivo said. “We are confident that our building permits were validly issued and the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety agrees.”
In March, the City Council tried to put the project on hold in the face of opposition, but the chain received final approval for the store the day before the council voted to block the project and others like it in Chinatown.
Labor unions argue that Wal-Mart, the world’s largest private company with 1.4 million employees in the U.S., abuses the rights of its workers to unionize, pays low wages and provides inadequate health benefits. Some opponents also contend the store will drive small Chinatown markets out of business.
Wal-Mart officials dispute the claims, saying that the chain’s wages and benefits are competitive or better than those of comparable retailers.