Wal-Mart Fumes Over D.C. Council Wage Vote

fromWAMU

Over the strong objections of Wal-Mart, the City Council in Washington D.C. has approved a bill that would require some large retailers to pay workers a minimum of $12.50 an hour. The city's minimum wage is $8.25. Wal-Mart has threatened to scrap plans to open three stores in the city if the measure is signed by the mayor and becomes law.

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Wal-Mart is changing its plans for the nation's capital. The company says it won't be building stores in Washington, D.C., after the city council passed a law requiring big-box retailers to pay what's known as a living wage.

Patrick Madden of member station WAMU has the story.

PATRICK MADDEN, BYLINE: Before the vote, Wal-Mart issued city lawmakers an ultimatum: kill the living wage bill, or it would pull the plug on three stores it has planned to build in the nation's capital.

The bill requires certain big-box retailers to pay its workers $12.50 an hour, a 50 percent increase above the city's minimum wage. Wal-Mart called the bill discriminatory. It exempts stores with union workers, for example.

But the retailer's threats did little to sway the D.C. Council. It passed the bill 8 to 5. Councilmember and former mayor Marion Barry criticized Wal-Mart's hardball tactics.

MARION BARRY: That's a stick-up, without a gun, and I'm not going to be stuck up.

MADDEN: But councilmember Tommy Wells - who opposed the living wage bill - admitted that while Wal-Mart isn't, in his words, the best citizen...

TOMMY WELLS: I view it as a job-killer. We do need our minimum-wage jobs. We need our low-wage jobs.

MADDEN: Two stores that Wal-Mart says it will not build have been planned for neighborhoods that have struggled for decades to attract development and retail and have much greater unemployment that the rest of the city.

The pressure is now on Mayor Vincent Gray, who could veto the legislation. A similar bill was passed by the Chicago City Council seven years ago. It was vetoed by then-mayor Richard Daley.

Gray says he has serious concerns over the council's action, but has not indicated what he will do.

For NPR News, I'm Patrick Madden in Washington.

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