Vincent Gray, mayor of the District of Columbia or DC, vetoed a bill Thursday that would have raised the minimum wage for DC residents $3.75 to $12.50 per hour for retailers with over $1 billion in corporate sales and operating a District store of at least 75,000 square feet. The Larger Retailer Accountability Act and the polarizing debate held by local leaders about the bill gained national attention to illuminate the low wages employees receive at many successful retail chains like Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot.
The mayor, appearing on Fox News, called the bill a “job killer,” saying that if it passed it would force these large retailers—and thus high-volume employers—out of the DC area. This was not mere conjecture on the part of the mayor. An e-mail from Wal-Mart, printed in the Huffington Post, compared the bill to the managed economy of Soviet Russia, using a quote from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg about a similar New York wage bill.
It was also revealed that Wal-Mart, who was in the process of opening six stores and bringing 1800 jobs to DC, balked on finishing the deals for the locations that had not yet broken ground. Of the three that had begun construction, Wal-Mart said they would seek to move those locations elsewhere.
Some believe that the bill was less about a “living wage” and more about giving workers the right to unionize. An exemption in the bill would have made it legal for large retailers to pay less than $12.50 per hour if their workers had collective bargaining agreements. Wal-Mart especially has had a troubled history with respect to allowing their employees to unionize.
Mayor Gray has said that he hopes to sign legislation that increases the minimum wage for all DC workers in the future.