Gray vetos living wage bill, affirms allegiances to Wal-Mart

Earlier today, Mayor Vincent Gray announced his decision to veto the controversial Large Retailer Accountability Act, colloquially known as the ‘living wage’ bill. Gray cited the bill’s failure to provide increased opportunities and wages for the majority of the D.C. workforce as grounds for his decision.

Gray released his decision via a letter to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, head of the D.C. Council which passed LRAA 8-5 two months ago. The letter lists six grievances Gray found with the bill, decrying the legislation as a “job-killer” and a “huge blow to economic development.”

The LRAA mandates that retailers with sales exceeding $10 billion annually and stores over 75,000 sq. ft. must pay employees an hourly wage of at least $12.50. This legislation pitted age-old rivals—corporate America and blue collar unions—against each other this summer in yet another battle over workers’ rights.

LRAA provides exemptions for unionized establishments. Wal-Mart, who unveiled plans in 2010 for the construction of six new D.C. locations, was perturbed by this caveat. Unionized D.C. grocery chains constitute Wal-Mart’s stiffest competitors.

Wal-Mart made clear its objection to the LRAA by terminating the construction of three of six future D.C. locations and threatening to nix the remaining three if the bill were to pass.

In his letter, Gray attempts to meliorate the Wal-Mart issue with an appeal to authority. “President Obama’s chief economic advisor noted the significant benefit large retailers bring to low-income communities by offering low prices,” he said. A closer look at Gray’s political agenda suggests otherwise.

The Washington Post claimed that Gray’s focus in recent months has been job creation and promotion of retail business. Gray has aggressively lobbied for Skyland Town Center, a 20-year plan to create development complex in Ward 7 -Gray’s old stomping grounds. The project website’s home page boasts of ample retail space “anchored by Wal-Mart”.

The Skyland location is one of the three future Walmarts whose production was contigent on the failure of LRAA’s passage. The Skyland developer Gary D. Rappaport has stated that the project will not progress without Wal-Mart’s participation.

So long as the Council fails to override the veto with a two-thirds vote, Wal-Mart and Gray’s agenda will go home, with a smile on their faces.  The same cannot be said for the D.C. workforce.

Photo: Walmart Corporate via Flickr

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