Grocery workers back Vincent Orange for D.C. mayor


Orange’s backing of a living wage bill gives him a leg up among grocery workers. (Rebecca D’Angelo/The Washington Post)

D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange’s leading role in pushing for a super-minimum wage for some retail employees in the city is paying off. The union representing the region’s grocery workers, a prime backer of the living wage bill, delivered its endorsement of Orange’s mayoral run Monday.

Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers pushed mightily for the Large Retailer Accountability Act last year, hoping the bill’s requirement of a $12.50 hourly wage for qualifying employers would provide a hedge against the potentially wage-depressing effects of Wal-Mart’s entry into the District.

Orange, chairman of the Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee, and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) played the leading roles in getting the measure passed. But Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) ended up vetoing the bill, and the council failed to overturn the veto. The living wage fight, however, paved the way for a broader minimum wage increase that will begin to go into effect in July.

In a statement delivered through the Orange campaign, Local 400 president Mark Federici called the three-term council member “a fighter for D.C.’s working families” who has a “high-road economic development strategy based on lifting our people and neighborhoods up, rather than sending us on a race to the bottom through poverty jobs.”

Federici also took a swipe at Gray and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), a council colleague of Orange’s who is also running for mayor and who opposed the living wage bill. “Unlike [Gray] and [Bowser], Vincent Orange stood with Washington workers rather than an Arkansas-based behemoth,” he said. (Two other council members running for mayor split on the LRAA: Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) voted for it, while Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) voted against it.)

Orange said he is “elated” to receive the union’s nod — the first major endorsement he has garnered. The UFCW local represents thousands of retail workers, many of them employed at area Giant and Safeway supermarkets. Most other major unions have lined up behind Gray, and the Metropolitan Labor Council AFL-CIO is set to vote on its endorsement Monday night.

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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