Wal-Mart announced Tuesday that it may not open its six planned stores in the District of Columbia if the city council passes a bill requiring the company to pay employees at least $12.50 per hour. The big box retailer called the bill discriminatory and encouraged Mayor Vincent Gray to veto it.
Less than 24 hours before the City Council was set to vote on the minimum wage proposal, Wal-Mart attempted to use its leverage to ensure the Large Retailer Accountability Act would be defeated. The bill would require retailers with more than $1 billion in sales and stores larger than 75,000 square feet to pay the super-minimum-wage, higher than the city's current $8.25 per hour. It would grandfather in retailers currently operating in the District and include an exception for workplaces with unions, safeguards that noticeably do not apply to Wal-Mart.
The retailer has already begun construction on three stores, but said the bill would cause the company to rethink opening those, as well as beginning construction on the other three planned sites. Previously, Wal-Mart, whose D.C. stores could employ as many as 1,800 people, had not explicitly said the minimum wage law would impact its plans to expand in the District.
Wal-Mart Regional General Manager Alex Barron said the company had conducted community research prior to commencing construction, and wants to "be part of the solution" for job creation in the District. He said the city council's attempt to pass the minimum wage law would "undermine" Wal-Mart's ability to provide economic growth:
From day one, we have said that this legislation is arbitrary and discriminatory and that it discourages investment in Washington. We have gone to great lengths to have thoughtful conversations with council members about why the LRAA would result in fewer jobs, higher prices and fewer total retail options. Most shopping dollars would stay in the suburbs, unemployment would remain in the double digits in some neighborhoods, and underserved communities would continue to have disproportionate access to affordable groceries.
Opponents of the chain's D.C. expansion say Wal-Mart's record of underpaying employees, opposing union activity and forcing local stores out of business show the company will do the local economy no favors. Jos Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO, called Wal-Mart's announcement "economic blackmail":
The ‘kinder, gentler' Wal-Mart that has professed so much interest in good jobs, shopping and foods for our community has returned to the kind of brazen intimidation and steam-roller tactics we've seen across the country and indeed, around the world.
Campaigns against the company have successfully derailed efforts to open Wal-Mart stores in Boston and Brooklyn, but the company has opened in many other large U.S. cities.
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