The soon-to-open Walmart at 1st and H streets NW.
The soon-to-open Walmart at 1st and H streets NW.

At a D.C. Council hearing in March, one of the principal objections to proposed legislation that would require certain retailers—-those that bring in at least $1 billion a year and have a D.C. store of more than 75,000 square feet—-to pay a “living wage” was the unfairness of the size requirement. Why, witnesses asked, should Walmart have to pay its employees more than, say, Apple, a company that’s one of the most profitable in the world but whose stores are much smaller than Walmart’s? The chairman of the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Vincent Orange, himself asked versions of this question several times.

And now Orange has answered them. In the revised version of the bill he plans to introduce at a committee meeting tomorrow, the 75,000-square-foot requirement is gone, meaning that the $12.50 minimum wage would apply to stores of any size if the companies make $1 billion per year. That ought to assuage some concerns about the bill’s fairness. But the revised bill contains a few stipulations that appear potentially problematic. Among them:

  • Orange tells Michael Neibauer that existing stores—-but not new stores of an existing brand—-would be exempt from the requirements. So, for example, the Apple store in Georgetown wouldn’t be subject to the $12.50 requirement, while the rumored Apple store in the new CityCenterDC development downtown would be. As Neibauer points out, that doesn’t seem right: Can you really make Apple pay its employees more at a new store than at an old store with exactly the same job description and working conditions?
  • Orange amended the bill so that only employees earning under $50,000 a year would be eligible for the living wage. But what does this accomplish? In order to make $50,000 at $12.50 an hour, you’d have to work 77 hours a week for 52 weeks a year. At those kinds of hours, you’d better get paid well. Should employers really be able to pay a lower hourly wage if they make their employees work insane hours?
  • Another change: Employers can use “any reasonable methodology” to apply prorated hourly benefits toward the payment of the living wage. That means that if an employer deems that an employees benefits amount to a quarter of the value of the employee’s salary, the $12.50 living wage could suddenly become $9.38 an hour. From an employee’s perspective, that might reduce the incentive to seek benefits.

Orange’s office didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment. The hearing will take place at 10:30 tomorrow morning, so stay tuned for more news.