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D.C. mayor vetoes 'living wage' bill

Thursday - 9/12/2013, 9:07pm  ET

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D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has vetoed the "living wage" bill passed by the D.C. Council. (WTOP File)

Trade board says veto keeps regional playing field level

Kate Ryan, WTOP

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WASHINGTON - D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has vetoed the "living wage" bill passed by the D.C. Council.

The measure would have required big-box retailers to pay workers a wage of no less than $12.50 an hour, and prompted Wal-Mart to threaten to scrap plans for three stores in the District.

In a press release, Gray called the bill "woefully inadequate" and "flawed."

The D.C. Council says they will take a vote to override the veto next week.

In response to Gray's decision, Steven Restivo, director of communications with Wal-Mart, released the following statement Thursday:

"Mayor Gray has chosen jobs, economic development and common sense over special interests - and that's good news for D.C. residents.

Now that this discriminatory legislation is behind us, we will move forward on our first stores in our nation's capital.

We look forward to finishing the work we started in the city almost three years ago: a plan to bring more jobs, shopping options and fresh food choices to Washington, D.C. residents."

Gray cited the likelihood that the bill would have harmed job growth and economic development in the District as the reason why he chose to veto it.

Gray outlined the flaws of the bill in a letter to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. In the letter, Gray said:

  • The bill is not a true living-wage bill, because it would raise the minimum wage for only a small fraction of D.C.'s workforce. He said the bill would only affect those employees who work for stores of supermarket size or larger and whose workforce is not unionized.
  • The bill is a job-killer, because nearly every large retailer considering a store in the District indicated they would not come to D.C. or expand due to the bill. He noted the deputy mayor for planning and economic development estimated that if the bill became law it would cost the District 4,000 jobs in the first few years.
  • Gray noted that other retailers besides Wal-Mart indicated they would not come to D.C. or would reconsider expanding if the bill passed, including Target, Home Depot, Wegmans, Lowe's, Walgreens and Harris Teeter.
  • Even if the bill would create a small number of higher-paying jobs, it would not guarantee those jobs to District residents.
  • The bill would kill economic development in underserved neighborhoods, citing the Skyland shopping center in Ward 7 as an example of a project that would suffer if the bill had become law.

Gray's decision to veto the bill appears to fall contrary to what then Mayor-elect Gray told WTOP in 2010.

Then, Gray said Wal-Mart stores intending to open in the District should pay employees at least $12 an hour.

Shortly after the bill passed in early July, Restivo said that the retail giant would pull the plug on three planned stores if the bill becomes law.

"The Council has made its decision, and we made a decision as well, and that's not to move forward on the stores not under construction and take a real hard look at the ones that are," he said.

Wal-Mart, which has already started construction on three stores in the District, said it would not pursue the Skyland, Capitol Gateway and New York Avenue locations.

Last week, the deal for the New York Avenue Wal-Mart fell through because another retailer, Lowe's, decided to build a store elsewhere.

Read Mayor Gary's letter to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson:

Large Retailer Accountability Veto Letter

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