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Walmart is issuing the D.C. government a stark ultimatum over its proposal to make big box retailers pay a living wage—kill the bill or it will close half of its six planned stores in D.C.
Under the provisions of the bill first passed by the D.C. Council in late June, retailers occupying more than 75,000 square feet and making more than $1 billion in annual sales would have to a "living wage" of $12.50 an hour; the city's minimum wage stands at $8.25 an hour.
Proponents say the bill would ensure a measure of economic justice in a city long divided between haves and have nots, but the Arkansas-based mega-retailer says the bill—which would affect it but not other national retailers like Apple and Nike—is "arbitrary, discriminatory, and discourages investment in D.C."
The bill is up for a second and final vote today. If it passes and is not vetoed by Mayor Vince Gray, Walmart says it will close three stores planned for D.C., including two in Ward 7, an area east of the Anacostia river and largely underdeveloped compared to the rest of the city. Six stores have been planned for the city, with three currently under construction.
Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), a big proponent of the stores, says she's frustrated by what's happened and hopes her colleagues on the Council listen to Walmart and vote down the living wage bill.
"We're talking 600 jobs in one of the wards where the highest unemployment rates exist. We're talking in a food dessert where groceries would be the main item for sale," she says.
But Council Chairman Phil Mendelson—a supporter of the living wage bill—said he's disappointed by WalMart's all or nothing approach.
"Clearly they're playing hardball with regard to this legislation. I'm not sure that's the best way to sit down and to work on important policy," he says.
The pressure has only increased with the announcement by a developer that if Walmart pulls out of the Skyland location in Ward 7, the planned redevelopment of the long-delayed site will not go forward at all. Additionally, the retailer said in a Washington Post op-ed that it would even reconsider the three stores currently under construction.
The head of the local AFL-CIO—a labor group that supports the living wage bill—blasted Walmart's threat, calling it "economic blackmail."
In a statement, Gray pushed legislators to reject the bill. “I strongly urge the Council to consider whether this legislation will actually promote strong economic development in the District and expand job opportunities for District residents," he said.
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