Living wage bill will get full D.C. Council vote


Apple is among the retailers who could be subject to a wage requirement being pondered by the D.C. Council. (Michael Temchine/For The Washington Post)

A bill that would require the biggest names in retail to pay their workers a super-minimum hourly wage of $12.50 will get the consideration of the full D.C. Council as soon as next month.

The council’s Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee voted Friday to move the Large Retailer Accountability Act forward on a 4-0 vote, minus language in the original bill that would have restricted its impact to stores of 75,000 square feet or more.

Under the version passed by the committee, all retailers whose parent companies do at least $1 billion in sales would be subject to the new wage requirement. Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), the panel’s chairman, said the legislation isn’t just about Wal-Mart — whose six planned D.C. stores would have been the most prominent businesses targeted under the original bill — but about “the Nikes, the Apples, the Gaps,” big companies that, he says, do business in smaller spaces but can still afford to pay their workers more.

It’s unclear precisely which businesses would be subject to the new wage requirement. The bill provides exemptions for franchisees and for businesses that collectively bargain with their workers. New outlets would be immediately subject to the wage requirements, while existing stores would have four years to come into compliance under the terms of the bill approved Friday. Prior to the vote, Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said “people need to know what is in and what is out.”

“There’s no definition of retail, no definition of retail store, no definition of goods” in the bill, he said. But Graham called those “relatively minor issues” that could be addressed via later amendments.

The panel’s vote attracted a significant crowd of labor leaders and social-justice advocates, who have pushed lawmakers to require higher wages, particularly in light of Wal-Mart’s entry into the city. The D.C. Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, issued strong statements Thursday opposing the broadened bill, saying it would discourage investment in the city.

Orange was joined in support by Graham, David Grosso (I-At Large) and Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who introduced the original bill and voted in the committee meeting in his ex officio capacity. Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) abstained from voting after raising concerns about the bill’s impact, including whether it would lead employers to reduce worker hours to cut costs. Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) was traveling and did not attend the meeting.

In other business Friday, the committee unanimously voted to disapprove regulations drafted by the city’s Consumer and Regulatory Affairs agency that would have placed new restrictions on the operations of food trucks in the city.

The rules, the product of years of discord between food trucks and traditional restaurants, will now go back for redrafting. The full council is expected to vote next Tuesday on a bill that would allow legislators to become more closely involved in rewriting the regulations.

“We have a lot of momentum, and we want to keep the momentum moving forward,” Orange said before the vote.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis | May 31, 2013