Walmart threatened to scrap three of six planned stores if the bill became law.
District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray has vetoed the so-called living wage bill that targeted large retailers like Walmart.
The controversial bill required certain big box retailers to pay its workers $12.50 an hour—a 50 percent increase above the city's minimum wage. The bill was passed this spring by the D.C. Council, more than two years after Walmart announced plans to build six stores in the nation's capital.
Walmart representatives criticized the bill as "discriminatory," noting the legislation exempted unionized stores with collective bargaining agreements. The retailer said it would pull the plug on three of the stores if the mayor signed the legislation into law.
Supporters argued that the bill would ensure a measure of economic justice for Walmart employees, all the while costing the Arkansas-based retailer little by way of profits. The bill had been introduced in a variety of forms since 2003, though it had never passed the full Council.
In a statement, Gray explained his veto, which came on the last day of a 10-day period to either sign or reject the bill.
“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. While the intentions of its supporters were good, this bill is simply a woefully inadequate and flawed vehicle for achieving the goal we all share," he said.
Gray also said that he worried that other large retailers like Target, Home Depot, Wegmans, Lowe’s, Walgreens, Harris Teeter, AutoZone and Macy’s would cancel plans to either come to the city or expand their existing presence. He said the bill could threaten more than 4,000 jobs.
Walmart spokesman Steven Restivo cheered Gray's decision. "Mayor Gray has chosen jobs, economic development and common sense over special interests—and that’s good news for D.C. residents," he said. "Now that this discriminatory legislation is behind us, we will move forward on our first stores in our nation’s capital."
The first Walmart is scheduled to open later this year or early next year along Georgia Avenue in Ward 4, and Restivo hinted that the three stores that the retailer planned to pull could be back on.
With Gray's veto, the bill goes back to the Council. To override the veto, nine of the 13 Council members must support the bill. It passed in the spring on an 8-5 vote, meaning supporters of the living wage bill will need to convince one more member to sign on. An override vote is scheduled for Sept. 17.
In his statement, Gray said that he would consider raising the city's minimum wage, which is currently set at $8.25 an hour. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who is running to replace Gray and opposed the living wage bill, has said that he will introduce a bill raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour.
Another mayoral contender, Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), also opposed the bill, while Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), supported it. Other responses are below.