Federal City Council, Ralph Nader wade into ‘living wage’ debate

August 9, 2013

The former mayor, now head of the influential Federal City Council, has been tasked by Gray with revising the city’s tax code and finding its next CFO. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

As the city political scene waits for the D.C. Council to send its controversial “living wage” act to Mayor Vincent C. Gray for a signature or veto, a powerful lobby has weighed in urging Hizzoner to send back the bill as soon as he gets a chance, while a legendary activist is telling him to sign away.

The Federal City Council on Friday shared a letter its chief executive, former mayor Anthony A. Williams, sent to Gray last week urging a veto. The letter was signed by Williams on behalf of 13 members of the secretive coalition of business leaders, including President Thomas M. Davis III, the former Northern Virginia congressman, and Chairman Robert J. Flanagan, an executive for the Clark construction, real-estate and investment empire.

“As business owners, operators and concerned citizens of the District of Columbia, we urge you to send a signal to the country and the world that we remain the destination for businesses, especially those that are providing opportunity and jobs in retail for those who need it most,” the letter reads.

It adds: “Arbitrary legislation like the [Large Retailer Accountability Act] that singles out one type of retailer for additional regulation creates an uncertain business climate. If the D.C. government is serious about bringing business to the city, then we need to roll out the welcome mat, not change the ground under their feet. … The LRAA will send the signal to the business community locally, nationally, and internationally that our city is ‘closed for business.’”

Williams had previously expressed personal opposition to the bill — which requires retailers with corporate sales of at least $1 billion who operate District stores of 75,000 square feet or more to pay their employees at least $12.50 hourly — in a Washington Post op-ed last month. While Williams’s opinion certainly carries influence with Gray — who has tapped the former mayor to make recommendations on revising the city tax code and to lead a search for the city’s next chief financial officer — a plea on Federal City Council letterhead lands with significant additional heft.

Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham is a vice president of the council and a member of its executive committee, but he is not among the letter’s signatories.

On Thursday, meanwhile, legendary consumer advocate and social justice crusader Ralph Nader sent a letter to Gray urging him to sign the bill, noting that Wal-Mart is managing just fine in Canada, several provinces of which have minimum hourly wages well above the District’s $8.25.

“Walmart’s presence in jurisdictions with a minimum wage above $8.25, such as Canada,Washington, Oregon, Vermont and Santa Fe, NM, suggests that Walmart has the ability to pay its workers a minimum wage far greater than the current federal minimum wage and still make a profit.” Nader writes in the letter.

Mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said Friday that Gray has yet to receive the bill.

Gray has suggested that Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) is waiting to send the bill to ensure the full complement of 13 members will be available to vote on a veto override, should one be necessary. Mendelson has not denied that, with the council on summer recess, scheduling considerations are a factor.

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 · August 9, 2013