Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed on Thursday a landmark bill that would mandate giant retailers pay a living wage, caving to public threats from Walmart that it would ditch plans to build up to six mega-stores in the city before it would agree to above-poverty pay.
Washington D.C. residents blasted the mayor for bowing to corporate bullying and dealing a blow to a city struggling with high poverty and unemployment and a soaring cost of living.
“At a time when many D.C. residents are being displaced by rising costs and a lack of good jobs, this bill [sends] a clear message that D.C. residents believe everyone deserves to be paid a wage that allows them to afford to live in our city, and shop in the stores they work in," said Reverend Graylan Hagler, pastor at Plymouth United Congregational Church of Christ and member of the Respect DC coalition.
Gray claims that he rejected the bill because he believes it would drive away employers, declaring, "I am vetoing this legislation precisely because I believe in providing a living wage to as many District residents as possible – and this bill is not a true living-wage measure."
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Yet, studies show that when Walmart megastores open, they don't join the local retail economy but take it over, driving out local businesses and setting low standards for pay, working conditions, and job security. Researchers in Chicago found that Walmart stores in the city don't increase the total number of local jobs, because they drive so many smaller employers out of business.
The dozens of community and labor organizations with Respect DC have been organizing against Walmart's poverty wages since its 2010 public bid and threw their weight behind a living wage bill when the retail giant refused to negotiate with them. The bill would have mandated that city retailers—with buildings greater than 75,000 square feet and with corporate sales over one billion dollars—pay an elevated minimum wage of $12.50 an hour.
Officials at Walmart, the largest private retailer in the United States, heaped praise on the mayor and told the media that they are moving forward immediately on plans to build two stores.
Washington D.C. residents, however, say that the fight is not over and and have already set to work urging the council to overturn the veto. "Gray’s veto is a disappointment, but the D.C. community isn’t going to be bullied by Walmart’s greedy corporate agenda," Hagler declared.