Wal-Mart is threatening to withdraw building plans on three stores in Washington D.C. because of a proposed city bill that would force large retailers to pay above D.C.’s municipal minimum wage, which is currently $8.25 an hour. The Large Retailer Accountability Act, pending a vote today, will force large retailers to pay employees at least $12.50 an hour.
In January, Council of the District of Columbia Chairman Phil Mendelson introduced the bill that was heard by the Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs committee. The bill classifies large retailers as “an indoor store of at least 75,000 square feet” with a minimum of $1 billion in annual sales. When the bill was first introduced, it mandated a wage of at least $11.75, but that amount has since risen. The bill’s wage isn’t fixed, as the bill will pin its fluctuation on the annual consumer price index.
The D.C. Council passed the bill in a preliminary vote last month in a favorable 8 to 5 vote. This support rose after the addition of the 75,000 square foot minimum amendment. The amendment was added to allow the bill to narrow its focus on Wal-Mart as its floor plan is usually much larger than other multi-billion dollar selling companies. Now, with the deciding vote scheduled for today, Wal-Mart is persisting its power play.
Wal-Mart is threatening to abandon operations and plans to open several stores within the D.C. area where three are already under construction. Since the six stores are projected to employ up to 1,800 people, Wal-Mart is using that leverage to place backhanded pressure on Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray to veto the bill should it pass the Council’s vote today.
The bill is a good proposition and would highly benefit those who would seek employment at the D.C. stores. Recently, Wal-Mart has instituted a temp-only hiring policy and has been able to scale back immensely on labor costs, which increases their profits.
It’s bad news for potential workers, however. The low wages coupled with initial temp status and cut hours only damage employees’ livelihoods. The Larger Retail Accountability Act only seeks to extend a hand of relief to those workers.
Wal-Mart seems to only have profits in mind as Wal-Mart U.S. regional general manager Alex Barron claims that the bill would “challenge the fiscal health of our planned D.C. stores.”
Joshua de Leon is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.