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Walmart Bill Vote Bumped to Next Week; Cue the Lobbyists

How much will workers here, in D.C.'s soon-to-be first Walmart, get paid?

Un-mark your calendars: The D.C. Council won't be voting on the Large Retailer Accountability Act tomorrow after all.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson tells the Washington Post that the vote on the legislation commonly known as the Walmart bill, which would require big retailers to pay a "living wage" of $12.50 an hour, will be pushed to next week in order to "follow the normal legislative process."

What's this mean for the bill? If anything, it means more time for the business groups that oppose it to lobby the Council. The bill had momentum after passing a Council committee last month on a 4-0 vote with an abstention. But opponents have been stepping up their game. The Post's editorial board ran a scathing critique of the bill last week. "We didn't think there was anything more the District could do to further its image as a place hostile to business," the editorial began. "A D.C. Council committee proved us wrong by taking a bad piece of legislation targeting large retailers and making it worse." (The committee, led by At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange, removed the provision limiting the bill's scope to retailers with 75,000 square feet or more of space so that it now applies to all retailers whose parent companies make at least $1 billion a year.)

And Walmart spokesman Steve Restivo gets in touch to question the bill's exemption for companies with collective bargaining agreements. "It seems that their employers would be ideal targets for the LRAA yet somehow two of the largest grocers in the country are carved out of the bill," he says in an email. "That fact tells you everything you need to know about who is driving this arbitrary and discriminatory legislation." A spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents workers at Giant and Safeway, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

But Mendelson, who introduced the legislation, says it wouldn't make sense to impose a living wage on businesses when "presumably a collective bargaining agreement will pay more than the living wage."

"The reason for exempting them is that presumably the employer has worked with the employees with regard to compensation," says Mendelson. He notes that collective bargaining agreements have helped lift wages at non-unionized supermarkets like Whole Foods, which he says pays close to union wages to prevent employees from unionizing.

Photo by Aaron Wiener

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  • Max

    But the unions admitted in hearings on this bill that they DON'T pay as much as the "living wage!" Collective bargaining agreements at places like Safeway & Giant are *lower* than $12.50 an hour--this is simple stuff to find out; why is nobody reporting on this? The LRAA was crafted between VO and the unions behind closed doors--and why do the unions want this bill so bad? Because it will force large employers like Walmart to enter into collective bargaining agreements with them, at a lower wage for the workers than the $12.50 "living wage". Although the union contracts will certainly guarantee workers a higher wage than DC's $8.25 minimum wage--typically $10-11/hour--once you factor in the union dues the workers will be forced to pay, who really wins here? The unions!

    Why aren't we talking about raising the minimum wage across the board? That's how you help DC's low-income employed. Not by paying lip service to a "living wage" with a bill that really just increases the unions' power here.

  • Cindy

    Even if the union workplaces don't pay a "living wage", unionized workplaces should be exempted from the bill, because union workers at least have a right to bargain with their employer to raise their wages to the prevailing "living wage." The workers at non-unionized workplaces don't have that right.
    By the way, I am all for cities and towns entering into a legally binding contract requiring Walmart (and other low paying employers) to pay a "living wage" to its workers as a condition for allowing them to build a store in a particular area. No living wage guarantee to workers - no building allowed. Sometimes we need to force companies to do the right thing. If our fellow citizens make a livable wage, it means fewer citizens on welfare, using food stamps, using Medicaid, going to the food pantry, etc.

  • Bill

    DC politicians show a complete ignorance of basic economics yet again. Yeah, let's have government "create" wealth by increasing wages--repercussions be damned! Because wage/price controls have worked so well in the past? Because the cost of labor artificially above the market rate will have no repercussions? Because study after study shows that this will increase unemployment? Because DC is so isolated with no competition from Virginia and Maryland? Ah, not quite...but don't worry--it will just feel so damn good to do it.
    Ps Good point about the hypocrisy of the unions here too.

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