- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2013

A “living wage” bill that has sparked a running tiff between Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and D.C. lawmakers is expected to reach the desk of Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Friday.

Passed by an 8-5 vote more than six weeks ago, the legislation would force retailers occupying in excess of 75,000 square feet or parent companies that gross $1 billion or more to pay their employees a minimum of $12.50 an hour in wages and benefits. The current rate is $8.25.

Karen Sibert, spokeswoman for D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, said the bill is “going to be delivered to the mayor” Friday.

Mr. Gray’s receipt of the bill will begin a 10-day window during which he can veto or sign the legislation, which won final passage July 10.

The president of one of the nation’s top union groups said Thursday that Mr. Gray should sign the bill.

“He ought to sign the bill — plain and simple,” AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka said during a wide-ranging interview hosted by the Christian Science Monitor in downtown Washington. “It’s a great piece of legislation.”

But Wal-Mart, the D.C. Republican Party and others have urged Mr. Gray, a Democrat, to veto the Large Retailer Accountability Act.

Asked about the high-profile bill, Mr. Trumka looked around the table and asked how many people at the breakfast resided in the nation’s capital, which has a high cost of living.

“How many of you can live on 12.50 an hour and raise a family?” he asked.

While the legislation, if enacted, would not affect such large grocers as Giant Food and Safeway, it would affect new big box chains, such as Lowe’s, Shopper’s Food Warehouse, Wegmans and Wal-Mart, and retailers that are not unionized.

Wal-Mart informed D.C. officials in January that it would not build three of six proposed D.C. stores and that plans for the remaining three stores could be jeopardized if the legislation becomes law.

The standoff has put Mr. Gray in a tough spot, since he is considered an ally of labor unions but also enticed Wal-Mart to build the stores — including two in Ward 7, where he lives. He has given no indication of what he plans to do.

The Arkansas-based retail behemoth agreed to come to the District after a lengthy deliberation process and various demands by city officials, who want to make sure D.C. residents obtain jobs at the new stores.

Unemployment can reach more than 20 percent in the city’s eastern wards, which at times have been dubbed “food deserts” because of their lack of eateries and options for buying nutritious food.

While the city waits a resolution, Wal-Mart’s public relations team has sent out near-daily emails to tout the company’s stores and protest the living-wage bill.