By C.N. Staff Writer
Mayor Vincent C. Gray vetoed the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), a bill many have dubbed the “Wal-Mart Bill.” Just before the city council took its summer recess, the majority of the members voted to pass the act, which called for increasing the minimum wage or “living wage.”
The bill was originally introduced by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, would require “large retailers,” defined as businesses operating an indoor store of at least 75,000 square feet and whose corporate parent has sales of at least $1 billion, to pay wages no lower than $12.50 per hour plus, benefits.
Once the council reconvened for session the bill was in the mayor’s seat. He vetoed it and sent it back to the council who had the option to override his veto, if they had enough votes. In their last legislative session they failed to do so. The bill, which was approved in a 7-6 council vote in July, put DC at the center of national debate over compensation for low-wage workers, failed to move. Councilmember At-Large Anita Bonds, who earlier voted for the bill, voted against the override when Mayor Gray sent the bill back to the council.
The mayor called the bill a job-killer, saying it would severely hurt and limit job growth across the city for the future. He warned that the bill would drive out large retailers who were in talks about coming to DC. In his veto letter sent to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, he said “the bill is not a true living wage,” citing that it would raise the minimum wage only for a small fraction of the city’s workforce. He also said the bill doesn’t guarantee “good paying jobs for District residents.” He noted that if the bill became law, there’s not guarantee that all the jobs would go to DC residents because some may go to higher-skilled Maryland and Virginia residents who will commute into the city.
Some of those retailers include big-box stores like Target, Home Depot, Lowes and Wegmans. Wal-Mart had already threatened to pull out of their 6-planned stores that they would open if the bill became law.
Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser said, “People of the District of Columbia shop at Wal-Mart every single day. They just don’t do it near their homes. . . . The fact of the matter is, they make choices for their families and they do it outside the District of Columbia,” she said. Bowser was a strong opponent of the bill, citing the potential loss of new jobs in the city.
Although the bill failed, the debate about Wal-Mart isn’t over. The council is considering an across-the-board minimum wage increase and the mayor has said he supports this idea. In his veto letter is suggested passing a reasonable increase to the minimum wage for all workers in the District, but he did not suggest how much that increase should be.
Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells recently introduced legislation City Councilman Tommy Wells, introduced legislation Tuesday that would raise the minimum wage by one dollar a year over the next two years while increasing the city’s standard deduction for personal income taxes. That legislation currently has the support of a veto-proof majority.
Meanwhile, two Wal-Mart locations are moving forward with their openings. Wal-Mart’s Senior Director of Communications, Steven Restivo, said in a Thursday morning e-mail that centers would open Monday near store locations on Georgia Avenue NW and H Street NW, which are scheduled to open before year’s end. Restivo estimated there would be roughly 300 hires at each store, “mostly full-time.” Applications for jobs are primarily taken online, but the centers are open for candidate interviews and applicants without access to Internet. The centers are at 7818 Eastern Ave. NW, for the Georgia Avenue store, and 900 Second St. NE, for the H Street store, and will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.