Wal-Mart says it will pull out of D.C. plans should city mandate ‘living wage’
jstampfl/c.o. A&R Companies – A rendering of the Wal-Mart planned for East Capitol Street.L
Alex Barron, a regional general manager for Wal-Mart U.S., wrote in a Washington Post op-ed piece that the proposed wage requirement “would clearly inject unforeseen costs into the equation that will create an uneven playing field and challenge the fiscal health of our planned D.C. stores.”
The bill as currently written would require retailers with corporate sales of a billion dollars or more and operating in spaces 75,000 square feet or larger to pay their employees no less than $12.50 an hour. The District’s current minimum wage is $8.25.
The Arkansas-based megaretailer has issued increasingly aggressive statements in recent weeks opposing the bill but had not, to this point, directly threatened to withdraw from its plans.
Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), who represents an area slated for two stores, said she was “angry and upset” about the ultimatum, which she said was delivered by Keith Morris, Wal-Mart’s director of public affairs and government relations.
“That means back to the drawing board for Ward 7 unless there’s a vote in opposition,” she said. “This is going to just about ruin two major development plans in Ward 7, where we were counting on a major anchor retailer to bring more retail and 600 jobs in a ward where unemployment is at its highest.”
The living wage bill, known as the Large Retailer Accountability Act, passed the council on a initial 8 to 5 vote last month. A second vote Wednesday would set up a difficult veto decision for Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who personally lobbied top Wal-Mart executives to open a store at the Skyland site in Ward 7, near his Hillcrest home. The council would need to muster nine votes to override a potential veto.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), the lead sponsor of the legislation, appeared caught off guard by Wal-Mart’s decision.
At a news conference Tuesday morning, Mendelson downplayed questions from reporters asking whether he feared a loss of some Wal-Mart stores.
“Those who oppose the legislation are insisting they will pull out, but that is speculative,” Mendelson said during his news conference. “I do not state for a fact, that every store that wants to locate in the District will therefore locate in the District under this legislation. But I do think it’s important that large retailers, that have economic power, earnings of a $1 billion or more, they have the ability to pay a wage that comes out to $26,000 a year. That is not very much.”
In an interview Tuesday afternoon, after being visited by the Wal-Mart delegation, Mendelson criticized the company for delivering its ultimatum less than 24 hours before the scheduled final vote. The company, he noted, did not appear at a March hearing on the bill and sent “ambiguous signals” in recent weeks about its intentions.
“I’m disappointed that they’re choosing to play hardball over this legislation,” he said, adding that Wal-Mart’s stance “suggests it’s an all-or-nothing approach, which is not a helpful way for us to do development.”
(Tim Craig contributed to this report.)
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