Housing Complex

Did Walmart Kill the Living Wage Bill?

walmart cartD.C.'s big-box living wage bill is dead, barring a surprising move by the D.C. Council.

Mayor Vince Gray vetoed the Large Retailer Accountability Act this morning, calling it "a woefully inadequate and flawed vehicle for achieving the goal we all share.” The Council can override the veto if nine members vote to do so—which would be unlikely, given that only eight supported the bill in the first place. The legislation would have required retailers in excess of 75,000 square feet and with parent companies grossing at least $1 billion to pay a living wage of $12.50 an hour, minus benefits.

Now the question is: What killed it? And more specifically: Is this Walmart's doing?

The Arkansas-based retail giant has been planning six stores in the District, though plans for development of one of its proposed sites recently fell apart, leaving the store on New York Avenue NE in doubt. But in July, Walmart announced that it would cancel plans for three of the stores and re-evaluate its options for the other three if the bill became law. This was a shrewd power play by the company: Either it would get the city to back down on the legislation, or it would have an excuse to scrap its three stores in the poorer parts of town, at least one of which was planned at Gray's urging.

Gray claims in his veto statement that the bill would have killed "more than 4,000 District jobs in just the first few years alone" (emphasis his). That's many more than the few hundred jobs at each of the Walmart stores than may have been scrapped.

But Gray focuses heavily on Walmart in the statement. He writes that President Barack Obama's chief economic adviser has stated that jobs at Walmart are better than the opportunities that would be available to low-skilled workers in the absence of Walmart stores. And he devotes quite a bit of ink to the Skyland Town Center, a project in Gray's home Ward 7 that's near and dear to his heart. Gray insisted that Walmart open a store at Skyland to help anchor the development. And in July, the developer of Skyland said the whole project could fall apart if Walmart pulls out.

I'm awaiting word back from Walmart on whether Gray's veto means the five District stores are definitely back on—and if Walmart made any assurances along these lines to Gray.

Now, if Gray's decision was made purely on the merits of the bill, that's one thing. But if he changed his mind on the legislation after Walmart made its threat to scrap some of its stores, that would set a problematic precedent. What, then, would stop any business that doesn't like a particular piece of legislation from threatening to close stores in D.C. if the bill isn't killed?

Regardless of what you think about the pros and cons of the living-wage bill, it's clear there's one player that got what it wanted: Walmart.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Dno

    Read the veto letter again, Aaron. Common sense and rational thought killed the bill.

    P.S. Walmart has already publicly said all stores are back on.

  • Richard

    A more appropriate headline would be:

    "DID THE LIVING WAGE BILL KILL WALMART?"

  • Corky

    Considering that the bill was obviously targeted at Walmart, why wouldn't it make sense to address Walmart's arguments in vetoing the legislation? The only reason for the bill was the fact that union protestors were opposed to Walmart coming into DC. These protestors and this legislation were nowhere to be found when Costco and Target opened stores in DC. Weiner must think we have the attention spans of goldfish.

  • Jim Ed

    This seems like a case study in confirmation bias.

    Those that think the bill stinks because its flawed or unfairly targeted at walmart will say that Gray took a smart, pragmatic approach.

    Those that wanted the bill passed because they think walmart is a poster child for corporate greed at the expense of small businesses and the poor will say that Walmart has Gray in their hip pocket, and that he was spineless in the face of corporate lobbying.

    To each their own I suppose.

  • AWalkerInTheCity

    "But if he changed his mind on the legislation after Walmart made its threat to scrap some of its stores, that would set a problematic precedent. What, then, would stop any business that doesn't like a particular piece of legislation from threatening to close stores in D.C. if the bill isn't killed"

    In this instance the kicker was that Walmart had already promised three stores in locations they didnt want (two of which will actually happen it appears), one of them in a location particularly important to the mayor. Other retailers are unlikely to have quite that degree of leverage. On the flip side, this is why following the veto Walmart could NOT follow through on their threat to kill the stores anyway. To do so would have left Mayor Grey out to dry, and would have been a bad incentive for future mayors considering casting a veto on walmarts behalf. In fact I would bet dollars to doughnuts that this was discussed beteen grey and Walmart prior to the veto.

    This is a long chess game that Walmart on the one hand, and Labor and other Walmart opponents on the other, are playing.

    Of course if Walmart opponents choose to introduce a more broad based living wage bill in a year or so, that could get interesting.

  • Typical DC BS

    If the city council and mayor were serious about a "living wage", they'd make it applicable to ALL businesses, including the DC government.

  • chris hauser

    no, 'twas sales taxes that killed the beast.

  • Hillman

    The sales tax and commercial real estate taxes on these parcels will be enormous.

    Then add in the location(s) with hundreds of residential apartments.

    That tax associated with that is giant as well.

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