DC Mayor Vetoes Living-Wage Bill, Endorses Walmart Poverty Wages
Walmart won another battle in its war on workers this morning as Washington, DC Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed the Large Retailer Accountability Act. With Walmart planning its entry into the DC market, the legislation would require the company and other big-box retailers to pay a minimum of $12.50 an hour in wages and benefits.
The debate over the bill, the Large Retailer Accountability Act, has polarized local leaders while garnering national attention and putting focus on the low wages many retail chains pay their workers.
But Gray made no secret in recent months that, for him, jobs and retail took priority.
Wal-Mart’s entry into the city was an early political coup for Gray, and he personally lobbied — some say threatened — top company executives to commit to a store at the Skyland Town Center development not far from Gray’s home in Ward 7.
The Skyland store is among those Wal-Mart has threatened to abandon should the living-wage bill become law.
Gray – who has previously received widespread support from the local labor movement – has been happy to promote Walmart’s narrative of jobs versus living wages. Before the city council surprised everyone by voting in favor of the bill earlier this summer, Walmart tried to blackmail the city by threatening to cancel building three of the six new stores planned for DC.
Sure enough, in announcing his veto Gray pretended to be a supporter of living wages in general while calling the LRAA a “job-killer.”
So much for standing up to Walmart’s bullying. And so much for bucking the national trend in which the only significant job growth is happening in low-wage industries.
Unfortunately, today’s veto decision was not surprising given Gray’s cozy relationship with the Walmart. “With the stroke of a veto pen any day now, Mr. Gray appears poised to deal another victory to the retail giant,” wrote labor reporter Josh Eidelson just hours before Gray’s decision was announced.
City activists have been pushing for months to make the LRAA law, making the nation’s capital a flashpoint in the struggle between workers and Walmart’s low-wage empire. LRAA supporters are now turning to the city council in the hopes that a follow-up vote next week will override the mayor’s veto.
The LRAA would not affect Walmart alone. It targets retailers with corporate sales of $1 billion or more and stores of at least 75,000 square feet. But Walmart has been the focus of the bill because of its vocal opposition to the LRAA and its plan to build six Walmart stores in a city that is Walmart-free.
Walmart’s profits in the second quarter this year were over $4 billion. It can easily afford paying DC workers $12.50. In fact, a year ago the retailer told DC community leaders it would pay even more — $13 an hour. The living-wage bill called Walmart’s bluff. It never intended to pay $13 an hour.
Respect DC, a coalition of groups in favor of the living-wage bill, quoted DC residents and figures reacting to Gray’s veto. “Mayor Gray had the opportunity to stand up for the residents of this city, but instead he allowed large, out of town companies, like Walmart, to threaten him and ultimately dictate the policies of our city,” said one Macy’s employee and DC resident. “By vetoing this bill he has further eroded the ability of DC residents and workers to earn enough money to take care of themselves and their families while remaining in the city.”
DC community leader and labor supporter Rev. Graylan Hagler urged the city council to override the mayor’s veto. “Unfortunately, the Mayor’s decision is hardly surprising because this is exactly what Walmart’s lobbyists said would happen. The Mayor’s office and Walmart have been working together to defeat this bill from the start. We strongly urge the city council to override this misguided veto,” he said.
Today’s news is a blow against workers who have been fighting to change Walmart’s low-wage, anti-union business model. And it comes on the heels of a national one-day strike by Walmart workers that hit 15 cities just last week.
DC is not the first city to attempt to enforce living-wage standards on Walmart and other retailers. The city of Chicago tried to do the same thing in 2006 before the retailer got that city’s mayor to veto the bill. Chicago now has nine Walmart stores.
But all hope is not lost yet for DC workers. Activists are now trying to pressure DC councilmember Tommy Wells to change his vote and support the LRAA in order to defeat Gray’s veto.