The veto, which is unlikely to be overridden by the D.C. Council, clears the way for Wal-Mart to continue its entry into the District — plans years in the making that were thrown into question after lawmakers embraced the wage proposal this year.
Gray (D) announced his veto in a letter delivered to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on Thursday morning. It explained his opposition to the bill and tried to soften the political consequences by disclosing his intention to seek a minimum-wage increase from all employers, not just large retailers.
In the letter, Gray said the measure was “not a true living-wage bill,” because its effect would be limited to “a small fraction of the District’s workforce.” He called the bill a “job-killer,” citing threats from Wal-Mart and other retailers that they would not locate in the city if the bill becomes law.
“If I were to sign this bill into law, it would do nothing but hinder our ability to create jobs, drive away retailers, and set us back on the path to prosperity for all,” he said.
In an interview, Gray did not say what minimum wage he would seek, except that any increase would be “reasonable” and would come after consultation with lawmakers and interested parties.
Mendelson, who shepherded the bill through the council after introducing similar bills for years to no avail, said he was disappointed by the mayor’s decision. “The issue is, do we want to attract low-paying jobs?” he said. “We want decent jobs that pay decent wages so our residents can afford to live in the District of Columbia.”
The bill, known as the Large Retailer Accountability Act, would require retailers with corporate sales of $1 billion or more and operating District stores of at least 75,000 square feet to pay their employees a “living wage” — no less than $12.50 an hour in combined wages and benefits. The proposal includes an exception for employers who collectively bargain with their workers. Existing employers would have four years to come into compliance.
The city’s minimum wage is $8.25 an hour. The bill would raise the annual earnings of a full-time employee making the lowest legal wage from about $17,000 to $26,000.
While the bill’s supporters repeatedly said it was not targeted at Wal-Mart, the debate was inextricably tied to the retail giant’s plans, announced in late 2010, to open as many as six stores in the city in the coming months and years.