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D.C. Bill Would Require Large Retailers To Pay Hourly Wage Of $12.50

Protesters gathered outside the Wilson Building earlier this month to pressure the D.C. Council to pass a bill requiring that large retailers pay a living wage.
WAMU/Armando Trull
Protesters gathered outside the Wilson Building earlier this month to pressure the D.C. Council to pass a bill requiring that large retailers pay a living wage.

A bill that would require some large retailers in D.C. to pay a wage of $11.75 per hour is expected to be expanded to require all retailers to pay an even higher wage to full-time employees.

The original version of the Large Retailer Accountability Act introduced in January limited the living wage requirement to retailers with stores larger than 75,000 square feet and annual revenues of over $1 billion—the big box stores.

But under a new version to be introduced tomorrow by Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large), all new retailers meeting those revenue targets—whether Walmart, Nike or Apple—would have to pay employees working more than 35 hours per week a living wage of $12.50 per hour.

Currently, only businesses working on city-funded projects are required to pay a living wage of $11.75 per hour. The mininum wage in D.C. is $8.25 per hour; the median hourly wage for retail workers in D.C. is $11.

At a hearing in March, Orange and social service advocates argued that a living wage was needed, saying that large retailers could afford to pay it and paying it would save the city money on social services it has to provide to residents not making enough to get by.

"By adopting living wage standards for large retailers, the District can ensure that economic development better meets the community’s need for family-supporting jobs," reads one of the bill's provision.

Orange did question why only retailers occupying large spaces in D.C. were covered by the bill—a complaint similarly echoed by Walmart and other retailers that would have been forced to pay the higher wages.

Under the provisions of the reworked bill, every large retailer will be covered—much to the chagrin of business advocates.

In an email to members today, D.C. Chamber of Commerce CEO Barbara Lang urged local and national businesses to fight the bill. Not only would it potentially kill up to 1,000 D.C. jobs, she wrote, but it would draw employees away from small local businesses and push large retailers out of the city. Lang argued that another major problem with the bill is that it wouldn't apply to retailers who have collective bargaining agreements with employees.

"Make no mistake—this is not a minimum wage bill. To compare this legislation to an increase in the minimum wage, while excluding collective bargaining agreements that in many cases provide a wage lower than what is being proposed in this bill, shows the hypocrisy surrounding this effort," she wrote.

Twelve of the council's 13 members backed the initial version of the bill.

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