More retailers urge veto of D.C. ‘living wage’ bill


Walgreens recently opened a flagship store in Chinatown. Now it is urging a veto of a new ‘living wage’ bill. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For The Washington Post)

It’s not just Wal-Mart urging Mayor Vincent C. Gray to veto the “living wage” bill passed by the D.C. Council last week. Executives from six national retailers posted a letter to Gray Wednesday urging him to reject the bill, calling it “misguided” and “unfairly discriminatory” and saying it “does nothing to address the proposed goal of improving job quality and opportunity in the District.”

Top government affairs executives from Home Depot, Target, AutoZone, Lowe’s, Walgreens and Macy’s signed the letter. All the companies have stores in the District, save Lowe’s, which has been considering opening a store in the Fort Lincoln neighborhood.

The executives do not threaten outright, as Wal-Mart has, to close stores or cease plans to expand in the city. But they said that following the passage of the living wage bill, known as the Large Retailer Accountability Act, “any future plans for retail expansion in the city must be revisited.”

“Arbitrary conditions that subject our stores to rules that other employers, including countless competitors, are not equally subjected to unfairly distort the marketplace and are cause for grave concern,” they write.

The bill mandates companies with corporate sales of $1 billion or more operating D.C. stores of at least 75,000 square feet to pay their workers wages and benefits of no less than $12.50 hourly, with an exception for union shops. The city’s current minimum wage is $8.25.

The letter comes less than a week after the city’s top economic development official, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Victor L. Hoskins, said the bill’s passage has led three unspecified retailers to abandon plans to open stores in the city. He also said the bill could derail redevelopment plans at at least two sites: the former Walter Reed hospital campus and the Shops at Dakota Crossing, where Lowe’s is considering locating.

Meanwhile, union backers of the bill have mounted efforts to urge Gray to sign the measure. The Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO sent an “action alert” Tuesday to its e-mail list, urging followers to sign a petition calling on Gray to sign the bill. And Mark P. Federici, president of Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, said in a statement last week that Gray’s decision “will speak volumes about his values, his true loyalties, and his approach to economic development.”

“Does he think so little of his constituents that he believes they’ll be happy with poverty jobs, or does he have the courage to support a high-road economic development strategy based on the principle that every job should be a job you can raise a family on?” said Federici, whose union represents workers at Safeway and Giant, who will face new competition from Wal-Mart.

It is unclear when the bill will reach the mayor’s desk, but Hoskins’s public comments, conversations with mayoral aides and the release of the Wednesday letter by Gray’s office indicate that a veto is overwhelmingly likely. The bill passed the council by an 8-5 margin; nine votes would be necessary to override a veto.

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 · July 17, 2013