'Living wage' bill gets vetoed in Washington, D.C.

Washington Mayor Gray vetoes legislation that would have forced large retailers to pay workers at least $12.50 an hour, a huge boost to the city's $8.25 minimum wage. Several companies lobbied against the targeted minimum wage bill, including Wal-Mart, which threatened to scrap plans for six stores in the area. 

Eric Thayer/Reuters/File
The Walmart logo at a Walmart store in North Bergan, N.J. Wal-Mart was one of many corporations that successfully fought a 'living wage' bill that would have bumped to $12.50 an hour the minimum pay of workers at large retailers.

The mayor of Washington, D.C., vetoed Thursday a bill that would have required large retailers in the city to pay their employees a “living wage” – a minimum $12.50 per hour, which would have represented a huge boost to the District’s current $8.25 minimum wage.

Mayor Vincent Gray called the bill “a job-killer” and “not a true living wage bill” in his veto, declaring it counterproductive to its goal of improving employment opportunities and wages.

Often referred to as "Wal-Mart bill," the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA) would have applied to retailers with annual sales over $1 billion and stores 75,000 square feet or larger. The District of Columbia Council originally approved the bill in July.

The LRAA has stirred national debate over minimum-wage laws and was met with widespread resistance from large corporations. It was first proposed in Washington shortly after last November's Black Friday protest against Wal-Mart's low wages. 

Wal-Mart fought the LRAA head on, announcing in a July statement that it would cancel plans to open three new stores in the district and would reconsider three others already in construction if the bill passed. The company urged the mayor to veto the “discriminatory legislation as it runs counter to every economic development platform his administration has identified as a priority for Washington, D.C.”

Many other corporations also lobbied against the bill. In a letter to Mayor Gray in July, executives from Home Depot, Target, AutoZone, Lowe’s, Walgreens, and Macy’s requested a veto, arguing that the bill was  “unfairly discriminatory,” and did "nothing to address the proposed goal of improving job quality and opportunity in the District.” They also warned that they would reconsider future growth and expansion in the area.

The city's deputy mayor for economic development has estimated that the LRAA would cost Washington more than 4,000 jobs in construction, Wal-Mart, and other retail jobs within its first few years. 

The mayor's veto was announced on the same day that California approved a 25 percent increase in its state minimum wage, to $10 per hour. Gray proposed that the city consider raising the minimum wage for all employees, rather than targeting those who work for larger ones.

The D.C. Council will reconvene Tuesday. In July, it voted 8-to-5 in support of the LRAA. Nine votes would be needed to override the mayor’s veto. 

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