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September 12, 2013 1:32 PM Gray Vetoes D.C. “Living Wage” Bill In (Temporary?) Victory for WalMart

By Ed Kilgore

Here’s some breaking news on the D.C. front with national implications (per WaPo’s Mike DeBonis):

District Mayor Vincent C. Gray vetoed legislation Thursday that would force the city’s largest retailers to pay a super-minimum wage to their workers, ending two months of uncertainty over the controversial bill’s fate and setting up a decisive override vote at the D.C. Council as early as Tuesday.
The debate over the bill, the Large Retailer Accountability Act, has polarized local leaders while garnering national attention and putting focus on the low wages many retail chains pay their workers.

Kathleen Geier has covered this issue extensively as a Weekend Blogger here at PA; her argument is that public officials shouldn’t sacrifice wage standards to a company (or a kind of company) whose entire business model depends on depressing labor costs and killing jobs provided by other retailers.

Gray’s veto was no surprise, as DeBonis explains:

Wal-Mart’s entry into the city was an early political coup for Gray, and he personally lobbied — some say threatened — top company executives to commit to a store at the Skyland Town Center development not far from Gray’s home in Ward 7.
The Skyland store is among those Wal-Mart has threatened to abandon should the living-wage bill become law. The developer of the project, Gary D. Rappaport, has said the project cannot move forward at this time without Wal-Mart’s commitment.
If the council fails to override the veto, Restivo said, “all stores are back on….”
The coalition of labor unions, city clergy and progressive political activists backing the bill have over the past six weeks canvassed neighborhoods and held media events in hopes of pressuring Gray into signing the bill. Wal-Mart and other large retailers, they argued, could pay their workers better wages without significantly harming their bottom lines.
Some said they considered Wal-Mart’s ultimatum a bluff; others said they would rather see the retailer walk away than accept its “poverty wages.”

The current scenario reflects an earlier chain of events in Chicago, whose council passed a similar big-box-living-wage bill that was vetoed by Mayor Richard Daley in 2006. An override vote failed, and there are now 10 WalMart stores in Chicago (Geier argues the company’s doing nothing good for that city, her own, in a recent Salon piece making the general case against WalMart’s job-creating claims).

Since Kathleen’s blogging here again this weekend, I’m reasonably sure she will address the D.C. override battle with her usual verve.

UPDATE: Yglesias cheers Gray’s veto, but proposes higher general minimum wage for DC workers.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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