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Un-mark your calendars: The D.C. Council won’t be voting on the Large Retailer Accountability Act tomorrow after all.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson tells the Washington Post that the vote on the legislation commonly known as the Walmart bill, which would require big retailers to pay a “living wage” of $12.50 an hour, will be pushed to next week in order to “follow the normal legislative process.”
What’s this mean for the bill? If anything, it means more time for the business groups that oppose it to lobby the Council. The bill had momentum after passing a Council committee last month on a 4-0 vote with an abstention. But opponents have been stepping up their game. The Post‘s editorial board ran a scathing critique of the bill last week. “We didn’t think there was anything more the District could do to further its image as a place hostile to business,” the editorial began. “A D.C. Council committee proved us wrong by taking a bad piece of legislation targeting large retailers and making it worse.” (The committee, led by At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange, removed the provision limiting the bill’s scope to retailers with 75,000 square feet or more of space so that it now applies to all retailers whose parent companies make at least $1 billion a year.)
And Walmart spokesman Steve Restivo gets in touch to question the bill’s exemption for companies with collective bargaining agreements. “It seems that their employers would be ideal targets for the LRAA yet somehow two of the largest grocers in the country are carved out of the bill,” he says in an email. “That fact tells you everything you need to know about who is driving this arbitrary and discriminatory legislation.” A spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents workers at Giant and Safeway, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
But Mendelson, who introduced the legislation, says it wouldn’t make sense to impose a living wage on businesses when “presumably a collective bargaining agreement will pay more than the living wage.”
“The reason for exempting them is that presumably the employer has worked with the employees with regard to compensation,” says Mendelson. He notes that collective bargaining agreements have helped lift wages at non-unionized supermarkets like Whole Foods, which he says pays close to union wages to prevent employees from unionizing.
Photo by Aaron Wiener