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Premium on minium wage mandated by D.C. lawmakers could chase Wal-Mart jobs elsewhere

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By The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 7:33 p.m.

WASHINGTON — District of Columbia lawmakers gave final approval on Wednesday to a bill requiring certain large retailers to pay their employees a 50 percent premium over the city's minimum wage, a day after Wal-Mart warned the law would jeopardize their plans in the city.

The retail giant on Tuesday linked the status of at least three planned stores in the district to the proposal. But the ultimatum did not change any legislators' minds. The 8-5 vote, the result of an hourlong debate in a packed council chamber, matched the outcome of an earlier vote on the matter.

“The question here is a living wage; it's not whether Wal-Mart comes or stays,” said Vincent Orange, a Democrat and lead backer of the legislation, who added the city did not need to kowtow to threats: “We're at a point where we don't need retailers. Retailers need us.”

Should the bill be signed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray and pass a congressional review period, retailers with corporate sales of $1 billion or more and operating in spaces 75,000 square feet or larger would be required to pay employees no less than $12.50 an hour. The city's minimum wage is $8.25.

While the bill would affect several existing District retailers — such as Macy's and Target — an extended grandfather period and an exception for unionized businesses has made it clear the measure is aimed at Wal-Mart, which has announced plans to open six stores in the city.

“Nothing has changed from our perspective,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo. He reiterated that the company will abandon plans for three unbuilt stores and “review the financial and legal implications” of not opening three others under construction.

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