D.C. Council fails to override mayor’s veto of ‘living wage’ bill

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D.C. Council members on Tuesday failed to garner enough support to override Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s veto of the Large Retailer Accountability Act, which would have increased wages at some city stores — most notably Wal-Mart.

Nine votes were required to override the veto, but only seven of 13 council members voted in favor — one fewer vote than supporters were able to muster to pass the bill. Council member Anita Bonds, at-large Democrat, switched her vote after the council approved the original legislation on an 8-5 vote in July.

The vote puts an end to debate over the bill labeled a “job killer” by Mr. Gray and “discriminatory” by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. executives but leaves in its wake a bevy of new proposals aimed at raising the minimum wage. Council members Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells and David A. Catania — who all voted against the bill — and Vincent B. Orange who supported it, introduced separate pieces of legislation on wages.

“I know in my head that this is not the right way to solve income inequality in this country,” said Mr. Catania, at-large independent, of his disagreement with the large-retailer bill.

Council members faced intense pressure from community and worker advocates to change their position.

Before the vote, about 200 protesters gathered outside city hall to advocate for a veto override. Some carried signs featuring the word “override” underneath photos of those who originally voted against the act. Inside the council chambers, protesters applauded members who said they would vote to override — prompting threats from D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson that those who didn’t pipe down would be ejected.

After the vote, the chamber erupted with chants of “We won’t forget,” and people yelled and held protest signs as they streamed past the council dais on their way out.

“If they think they are going to sell us out one more time, they have another thing coming,” said the Rev. Graylan Hagler, one of the leading advocates for the bill.

The act put the District in the national spotlight after a standoff in which Wal-Mart threatened to not build three of six stores it planned in the city and to reconsider the timeline for the three other stores if its provisions stood. Wal-Mart argued it was being unfairly targeted and was one of several retailers that spoke out against the legislation.

The bill would have forced large retailers employing nonunion labor to provide pay and benefits worth $12.50 an hour — a so-called “living wage.” The current minimum wage is $8.25 an hour.

In an eleventh-hour plea for his colleagues to support the bill, Mr. Orange pointed to reports that Wal-Mart is paying higher wages in other cities and questioned why the District shouldn’t hold the retailer to the same standard.

“We here in the District of Columbia, we’ve been had,” said Mr. Orange, at-large Democrat.

Ms. Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat and a candidate for mayor, introduced legislation Tuesday that would establish an 11-member commission to study and make recommendations on an increase to the minimum wage. Mr. Wells, Ward 6 Democrat who is also running for mayor, introduced legislation to raise the minimum wage to $10.25 an hour after two years and include the ability to increase it as the cost of living changes after that. His proposal also would increase the standard tax deduction for residents.

A bill proposed by Mr. Orange would raise the minimum wage to $12.50 an hour and another from Mr. Catania would increase it to $10.50 an hour over the next three years. Mr. Catania’s bill also requires restaurants to provide sick leave for their employees.

Mr. Mendelson said he expects the bills to be combined in some fashion as the council considers them.

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