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D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray vetoes Walmart living wage bill

WalMartWalmart has essentially been given the green light to move into Washington, D.C., thanks to an unexpected veto of the living wage bill from Mayor Vincent Gray.

On Thursday morning, Gray sent a letter to D.C. city council Chairman Phil Mendelson, explaining that he was vetoing the legislation because, while “well-intentioned,” it was “flawed.” The bill would have forced Walmart — which was planning on opening stores in the city — to pay its employees $12.50 per hour.

“If I were to sign this bill into law, it would do nothing but hinder our ability to create jobs, drive away retailers, and set us back on the path to prosperity for all,” Gray wrote.

The bill didn’t outright target Walmart, its supporters argued, but would have applied to all retailers with stores larger than 75,000 square feet with parent companies making more than $1 billion annually.

Gray outlined in his letter that the bill only applied to a fraction of people employed in D.C. and decried the exemptions for large retailers with unionized workforces. Instead, he promised to fight for living wage implementation for all D.C. employees, not just some.

The Mayor also said the bill would scare off big retailers, such as Walmart, Home Depot and Target, looking to move into D.C. or expand their operations there, making the bill a huge job-killer. He added that the small number of higher paying jobs that might be created would likely be granted to commuters, higher skilled residents of Maryland and Virginia.

And though the bill only affected D.C. businesses, it was part of a much larger national debate on raising the minimum wage to a so-called ‘living wage.’ Earlier this summer, fast food workers took to the streets to protest their wages, demanding a minimum wage increase from $7.25 to $15. Proponents of the increase in wages argue that workers can’t live on such low hourly pay.

But conservatives point out that an increase in hourly pay might lead to fewer jobs, as employers decide not to increase their workforces, or even cut the number of employees currently on their payroll. The alternative for companies would be passing on the cost to consumers — or not expanding their operations, as Walmart threatened to do if the Mayor signed the legislation. Instead, Walmart executives are celebrating.

Steven Restivo, senior director at Walmart, praised the Mayor’s move.

“Mayor Gray has chosen jobs, economic development and common sense over special interests – and that’s good news for D.C. residents,” he wrote in a press release.

Restivo added that the company would move forward with its plan to move into the District, acknowledging the national conversation currently taking place on employment and expressing a desire to be part of the solution.

“We stand ready to work with government, businesses and others to help create more good jobs and strengthen the pathway to the middle class and beyond,” he closed.

Mendelson’s office issued the following statement in response to the veto:

“The fundamental issue with the Mayor’s veto is whether the District’s economic development strategy should be focused on attracting low paying jobs.  Minimum wage should not be our goal.  These are not career building jobs.  A family cannot afford to live in the District on minimum wage. A sound economic development strategy for a sustainable District of Columbia should not be predicated on low-wage jobs.  The District needs jobs, but they should be decent jobs with decent wages.”

The Council has 30 days to consider overriding Gray’s veto, but Mendelson promised to schedule a vote during Tuesday’s legislative meeting.

This post has been updated to include additional information.

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