In the months since Wal-Mart announced its interest in entering the District of Columbia, it has escaped serious legislative scrutiny.
But Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) is looking to change that. Today, he introduced a pair of bills that would put rails on any retailer looking to locate a store of 75,000 square feet or more in the city. That threshold appears to just encompass the smallest of the four proposed Wal-Marts.
One bill would require such retailers to enter into a “Community Benefits Agreement” with a “broad-based coalition of individuals and entities that are reflective of the community in which the retail store is located.” Neighborhood groups have been seeking such agreements with Wal-Mart, but while the retailer has promised to be generous to the community, it has been reticent to ink any deals.
The second bill “declares that it is the policy of the District to promote living wage jobs to help working families make ends meet and protect the health, safety and welfare of our community.” To that end, any retailer whose parent company grosses $1 billion or more (Wal-Mart took in $258 billion in fiscal 2010) and wants a store of, again, at least 75,000 square feet would have to pay employees a “living wage” rate, set initially at $11.75 an hour and indexed to the regional Consumer Price Index. Benefits could be counted toward that rate, which would apply equally to any subcontractors hired by the retailer.
Does this have any chance of becoming law? Doesn’t look good at the moment. Mendelson is a reliable backer of area labor groups, and they have been pushing politicos to get tough with Wal-Mart. But it’s unclear how many of Mendelson’s union-loving colleagues will join him.
The community benefits bill went to the Economic Development Committee, chaired by Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), who has been fairly stalwart in support of both organized labor — and of Wal-Mart. The living wage bill is headed to the Workforce Development panel headed by Michael Brown (I-At Large), who has thus far been unwilling to schedule a general hearing on Wal-Mart but also styles himself a friend of unions. Standing on the other side for Wal-Mart’s interests are a coterie of experienced Wilson Building lobbyists, not least of which is the formidable David W. Wilmot.
Here are the bills: