Big Labor blasted Wal-Mart’s threat that it would not build stores in Washington D.C.’s Skyland, Capitol Gateway and New York Avenue areas if Mayor Vincent Gray signs a “living wage” law that would apply mainly to big box retail stores.
“This is nothing more than a desperate last-ditch attempt to blackmail council members who have supported the Large Retailer Accountability Act. The ‘kinder, gentler’ Walmart 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,” said Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO President Jos Williams in a statement.
The D.C. Council voted 8-5 Wednesday to adopt the law, ignoring an earlier warning from Wal-Mart on the issue. This was a victory for the AFL-CIO, which had been pushing councilmembers on the issue. The law requires the retailers to pay $12.50 an hour, $4.25 above the District’s own minimum wage law.
It may be a temporary win though. Gray has indicated he leans against the bill.
The laws essentially force businesses to pay the kind of wages they would have to if their workers were unionized. This creates a “well, what’s the difference?” situation for the businesses when unions try to organize their workers.
Wal-Mart has been involved in building six stores in the District and initially had very good relations with the city council. The relationship has deteriorated since then though as the wage law gained steam in the council.
In a Washington Post op-ed Tuesday, Alex Barron, Walmart’s regional general manager, warned that wage law would not only stop the three planned stores but it would also “jeopardize the three stores already under construction, as we would thoroughly review the financial and legal implications of the bill on those projects.”
The council ignored the threat. “We’re at a point where we don’t need retailers. Retailers need us,” said Vincent Orange, D-At Large, the bill’s leading advocate.
Wal-Mart repeated its warning in a statement today. “This was a difficult decision for us — and unfortunate news for most D.C. residents — but the Council has forced our hand.”