Vincent Gray’s statement in support of his veto of the Local Retailer Accountability Act was a collection of non-sequiturs, half-truths, vague promises, and nonsense. He divides his critique of the LRAA into six sections.
- “The bill is not a living wage bill because it would raise the minimum wage only for a small fraction of the District’s workforce.” The Mayor says he wants, instead, “to raise the minimum wage for all District residents.” Of course, the District could do both: require a higher minimum wage for billion-dollar corporations and a lower one for other businesses, including mom and pop stores. But the fact is that Mayor Gray hasn’t put forward any minimum wage increase, and the level that Councilmember Tommy Wells has suggested is $10.25—far below a “true living wage.” Each member of a 2-parent family with two kids would need to earn nearly $20 an hour to have a true living wage in the District.
- “The bill is a job killer, because nearly every large retailer now considering opening a store in the District has indicated they will not come here or expand here if this bill becomes law.” The Mayor should identify the expansions Target, Home Depot, Wegmans, Lowe’s, Walgreens, Harris Teeter, AutoZone and Macy’s will make if the bill doesn’t pass. If they have such plans, why haven’t they announced them? And how credible is this threat? What billion-dollar retailer would invest here with a minimum wage of $10.25 an hour but not with a minimum wage of $12.50 that gives a credit for other benefits? The Mayor is either being dishonest, or gullible, or is simply unwilling to stand up to corporate bullies.
- “The bill will affect far more retailers than many supporters think.” So it’s not an anti-Walmart bill. That’s what supporters have said all along.
- “The bill doesn’t guarantee good-paying jobs for District residents.” Neither does the Mayor. On the other hand, allowing billion-dollar corporations to pay their workers $8.25 an hour guarantees nothing except poverty for the workers who have them. If the bill doesn’t pass and Walmart, for example, opens a new store, there is no guarantee it will hire District residents. Walmart’s public documents explicitly leave it free from any binding commitment to hire even a single District resident.
- “The bill will not preserve existing jobs with local retailers.” This is true, but letting Walmart open more stores while paying poverty wages will surely kill those local retail jobs. Studies show that when Walmart opens a new store it kills 1.4 jobs for every job it creates—leaving a net loss and a trail of bankrupt small, local businesses. Nail salons, hair salons, hardware stores, small drug stores and markets will be run out of business by a giant, ruthless competitor.
- “The bill will deal a huge blow to economic development.” Development that sucks money out of the District and sends it to corporate shareholders around the world while leaving workers here impoverished is not worth having. Each full-time worker at a big box retailer would earn at least $4.25 more than the current minimum wage under the LRAA. If there are 4,000 such jobs, than the total additional wage bill would be more than $35 million. That is how much more would stay here, in the wallets of DC workers, rather than being sent to Arkansas and elsewhere to enrich the Waltons and other shareholders of Walmart and the other mega-corporations. That money would be spent here in the District, further increasing demand and business activity, not to mention allowing parents to better feed, clothe, and care for their children.
The mayor has chosen sides. But he has taken the side of the exploitative rich, rather than his constituents who have to work for a living. The Council should override his veto of the LRAA. And then Mayor Gray and the Council should raise the District’s minimum wage to $10.25 an hour.