D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray vetoes ‘living wage’ bill with nod to Wal-Mart

Council override vote expected to fail

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The chain has opened stores in some of nation’s largest cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Las Vegas. Noticeably absent from the list, however, is New York, where union resistance to Wal-Mart wage levels is intense like it is in the District.

Worker advocates who supported the bill were disappointed by the veto and said they would lobby council members to change their votes.

Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice and American Rights at Work, said the District “deserves better than employers who don’t respect the community.”

Mr. Gray said after Tuesday’s vote, regardless of the outcome, that he would like to continue talking with businesses, residents and worker advocates about legislation to increase the minimum wage for all.

“I don’t know if there are lot of people who would make the argument that, given the minimum wage hasn’t changed in a very long time, that this shouldn’t be considered,” he said. “I think the issue is more likely to be considered to what end.”

It’s unclear to what end Wal-Mart and other retailers would support or fight an overall increase to the minimum wage amid national efforts, both locally and federally, for better pay for workers.

If the “living wage” bill had passed, it would have been the first in the nation to impose higher wages on large retailers.

In Chicago, Wal-Mart — still the world’s largest and by far the biggest employer in the United States — won a standoff in 2006 with powerful labor unions and their allies and succeeded in building nine stores unencumbered by such wage legislation. Richard Daley, Chicago’s mayor at the time, vetoed a “living wage” bill passed by the council similar to the one in the District, enabling the retailer to start wages a little more than $8 an hour rather than the $12 mandated by the legislation.

Asked whether he plans to shop at the stores close to home once they eventually open, Mr. Gray said he would.

“I go to Safeway a lot. I go to Giant. I go to Costco. So I would expect to shop in a Wal-Mart with the same regularity as the others,” he said.

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