Housing Complex

Is the Living Wage Bill Hypocritical? Check Your Math.

Political consultant and NBC Washington contributor Chuck Thies got a lot of attention this morning for a column he wrote under the provocative headline "D.C. Government Doesn't Pay a 'Living Wage.'" "Hypocrisy alert," he sassed. "District government pays less than $12.50 per hour." Before the city forces large retailers to pay a living wage under the Large Retailer Accountability Act of 2013, he wrote, it should consider that it doesn't even pay its own employees that much.

The story made the rounds on Twitter. Walmart spokesman Steven Restivo emailed it out to the media.* Thies bragged that it even made the Drudge Report.

The only problem? His thesis isn't true.

"According to the D.C. Department of Human Resources," Thies wrote, "some full-time school maintenance workers and custodians make $11.75 per hour. The rate for a clerk at the University of the District of Columbia is $10.40."

But the living wage bill allows retailers to deduct prorated benefits from the $12.50 requirement. The wages Thies quotes don't include benefits.

Department of Human Resources spokesman Alex McCray says that D.C. government employees who work at least 20 hours a week are eligible for benefits. The bare minimum benefits package—with medical, dental, vision, and an employee assistance program—amounts to $4.46 an hour for employees who work 20 hours a week, or $2.23 an hour for employees who work 40 hours a week, on top of the regular wages.

In other words, a full-time school maintenance worker or custodian who makes $11.75 an hour would, under the living wage bill's provisions, be considered to be earning $13.98 an hour—well more than the living wage. Even the UDC clerk making $10.40 would, under the minimum benefits package, get $12.63, clearing the threshold required for Walmart employees.

That's not to say that the living wage bill isn't flawed or arbitrary—but it's not hypocritical.

*Correction: Restivo's email linked not to this Thies piece, but to another Thies piece on NBC Washington that also criticized the living wage bill. I apologize for the error.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • joan

    Chuck Sleaze wants some of that Walmart lobbying money.

  • DC

    Haven't we learned yet to ignore Chuck Thies? I'll grant that he has informed things to say about DC politics, but as soon as he starts talking about policy, it's always supremely uninformed. This example is all too common of his dull witted missives.

  • Purify

    It's hypocritical when you pick and choose which companies/organizations have to follow it.

  • George

    @ Purify

    Why is that hypocritical?

  • Purify

    you're saying that some people deserve a living wage based on targeted criteria while the rest of the city's workers do not deserve a living wage. It's hypo-criticism in it's purest form.

    How many people make less than $12.50 an hour who work for McDonalds, CVS, Joe's Liquor and a million other corporate and mom & pop establishments that fall outside of these parameters? I would imagine it's many times the number of people that this bill would cover.

    It's a pure political move by this council to help unions and existing grocers keep out the like of Walmart, Wegmans, and other non-union grocers/retailers.

    If the DC council cared about a living wage, they'd increase the overall minimum wage incrementally until they reached it, and then index it to inflation/CPI.

    Instead they pulled this political stunt that told every large retailer in the country that you're welcome in DC, but don't be surprised if we change the rules for you.

  • name

    Our city's fair leaders need to be careful. Comparisons of salary + benefits have been studiously avoided by our union heavy city government defenders.

    If the standard of comparison becomes Salary + Benefits, the employment package of city government employees begins to look like a gold plated fleecing compared to their private sector funders.

    One City!

  • George

    Hypocrisy is when you expect other people to do something that you aren't willing to do. The City Council would be hypocritical if Chuck Thies's analysis were correct, because they would be asking large retailers to pay a living wage they themselves weren't willing to pay.

    You might say not asking all employers to do it is inconsistent, but it's not hypocritical.

  • Anon2

    some people think having a union is a benefit in and of itself.

    has the decrease in the proportion of unionized workers over the years led to rising wages? greater equality? or the reverse?

  • Fabrisse

    All CBEs and First Source employers are already required to pay the Living Wage. Walmart tried to weasel its way out of adhering to that requirement. As far as I can see, this is re-establishing the correct equilibrium.

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  • Barrie Daneker

    There's Chuck once again with his upchuck! Lies Lies Lies! And this guy is a politico in DC? GIVE ME A BREAK!

  • Corky

    Chuck is right. It is hypocritical for the DC government to impose this wage on Walmart and no one else, including itself. I can assure you that DC DOES NOT pay its summer youth 12.50 an hour and it provides them no benefits. Also, the author of this article is assuming that Walmart does not provide any benefits either, which is not true.

  • Economist

    I care a lot less about whether the DC government pays the living wage than whether retailers in Arlington, Montgomery, and Prince George's do. Because if they do not, then DC is unilaterally disarming in the regional economic competition.