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'Living Wage' Veto Stands; D.C. Legislators To Introduce New Minimum Wage Bills

The District's minimum wage currently stands at $8.25, but it could soon go up.
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The District's minimum wage currently stands at $8.25, but it could soon go up.

Walmart and other large retailers won't be required to pay their employees a "living wage'' of at least $12.50 an hour in the District of Columbia — at least not right away.

The D.C. Council failed to override Mayor Vincent Gray's veto of the wage bill on Tuesday, signaling an end to an effort that made the nation's capital part of a national debate over compensation for low-wage workers.

A two-thirds majority was required to override the veto. The council fell two votes short, voting 7-6 to override. The bill was approved in July by an 8-5 margin.

During Tuesday's debate, activists supporting the bill crowded into the Council's chambers, hoping to sway legislators to reject Gray's veto. They have long argued that passing the bill would offer a measure of economic justice to store employees, and at little cost to the retailers.

But despite their advocacy, Walmart's threat to scrap three of six planned stores and Gray's insistence that the law would drive other retailers to the suburbs carried weight with most Council members.

"Walmart's past may be why you are so passionate about this, but this isn't about Walmart, this is about jobs and fair and equitable legislation that makes sense," said Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), whose ward would be home to one of the planned Walmart's that the Arkansas-based retailer threatened to walk away from.

Immediately after the vote, the activists erupted in anger, and activists continued shouting as they were escorted out of the chambers.

New bills introduced

In the end, however, the veto does not end the conversation.

Fresh off of their two-month summer recess, various legislators introduced bills that would increase the city's existing minimum wage of $8.25. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large) proposed that the minimum wage be allowed to rise to $12.50, with subsequent increases tied to the Consumer Price Index. Orange's bill would also increase the minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.77 to $8.25 an hour, an increase the prompted an outcry from the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who is running for mayor, is pushing an alternate proposal which would see wages rise to $10.25, along with an increase in the District's standard deduction for personal income taxes. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), also a mayoral contender, didn't take a firm stance on the issue, but rather proposed that a commission be created to discuss it.

If any of these bills passed, D.C. would have the highest minimum wage in the country; California recently voted to raise the minimum wage to $10 by 2016.

Gray himself has recently advocated for an increase in the minimum wage, though he has not specified how big an increase he would want to see.

Advocates for minimum wage increases argue that a $12.50 hourly salary could push families of three over the poverty line. Critics worry of the cost to small businesses.

In related news, Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) introduced a bill that would extend the city's extending paid sick leave law to restaurant workers.

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