The council passed a bill in an 8-to-five vote that would require big retailers to pay starting wages 50 percent above the district’s minimum wage. The measure — which was backed by unions and aimed at Wal-Mart — would require big retailers with corporate sales of $1 billion or more and stores with at least 75,000 square feet to pay employees a starting salary of not less than $12.50 per hour. But the minimum wage in the city is only $8.25. And the bill exempts unionized businesses.
Wal-Mart had warned that if the discriminatory measure was passed, the company would not go through with plans for three new stores in D.C. and might not complete three stores under construction. As many as 1,800 jobs were at stake — the kind of economic boom that most cities would be eager to get.
But not the D.C. council majority. It rejected Wal-Mart’s warning and passed the salary measure despite warnings from business leaders and some council members that opposed the job-killer for the district.
The next move was Wal-Mart’s. The company kept its word and said it was indeed scrapping plans for those three new stores — and will review its legal and financial options on other stores including the three under construction. You might think that would have some sobering effect on the eight council members.
Not so. The bill’s sponsor, Democrat Vincent B. Orange, in effect said the district doesn’t need Wal-Mart. He said D.C. has reached “a point where we don’t need retailers. Retailers need us.” But the D.C. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Barbara Lang hit the nail on the head with her statement: “This continues a trend of unfriendly business decisions by our D.C. Council. This sends a clear message to other businesses that may be considering development projects in the District of Columbia that they are not welcomed.”
Echoing that assessment, a National Retail Federation spokesman said the bill was “a prime example of why the district is consistently ranked as one of the worst places to do business in the nation.” He made the point that retailers, large and small, “create rewarding job and career opportunities for many district residents” — plus providing goods and services and spurring “economic growth and revitalization.”
A Democratic council member that voted against the bill was Tommy Wells, who is also a candidate for mayor. He said he opposed the bill as being against “the best interest of those who need jobs in the district and those who need affordable goods.” Amen.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray could veto the “get Wal-Mart” bill. A spokesman said the mayor had “serious concerns over the lost jobs and retail opportunities for district residents that the bill will cause.” Maybe the mayor will get things right side up in D.C.