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D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson‘s attempt to win one more vote to override Mayor Vince Gray‘s veto of the Large Retailer Accountability Act looked doomed only a few minutes into At-Large Councilmember David Catania‘s speech. Even though he began by talking about his mother’s union card, Catania eventually announced that he would vote against the bill.
If Catania had switched his vote, however, the LRAA would already have failed. That’s because At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds switched her vote from supporting the bill to opposing the veto override, leaving it far from the required nine votes. Seven members voted to overturn the veto, and six voted against.
Bill opponent Yvette Alexander, whose Ward 7 includes two of the stores Walmart had threatened to cancel if the bill became law, used her speech to argue that blocking the legislation would help development. Much of the development Alexander anticipates would be around the stagnant Skyland plot, which will host one of the Walmarts. “I’ll be darned if we aren’t going to get it,” Alexander said.
Earlier Tuesday, the Council had seen no fewer than four new minimum-wage bills introduced. In his speech, Mendelson argued that the existence of those bills shouldn’t make members vote against the LRAA, which would require Walmart and other non-unionized big-box retailers to pay $12.50 an hour (minus benefits). The current D.C. minimum wage is $8.25 an hour, a dollar more than the federal minimum.
“It’s fine that we try to raise the minimum wage, but we actually need an economic development strategy that does more than that,” Mendelson said.
After the vote, supporters of the bill noisily left the chamber, with one man confronting councilmembers at the dais and saying, “Y’all forgot about us!” Outside the Council chamber, Rev. Graylan Hagler vowed to lead the discussion over raising the minimum wage. “We’re going to run that debate,” Hagler said.
In a statement released after the override failure, Walmart said that it “[looks] forward to being part of the solution in communities across D.C., especially in areas east of the river that have been traditionally overlooked by major retailers.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery