Surprise: D.C.’s “living wage” bill targets Wal-Mart, but could discourage other businesses
posted at 7:21 pm on July 12, 2013 by Mary Katharine Ham
I hate to blog too much about Washington, D.C. issues. I don’t do it out of an unhealthy attachment to the Beltway but because the city serves as such a useful illustration of liberal policies and their follies every single day. The city council passed a “living wage” bill this week that targets billion-dollar retailers with over 75,000 square feet, thereby exempting liberal-approved companies like Starbucks and Apple. It also includes a specific carve-out for union shops. The new law would require a segment of retailers that sounds suspiciously like “retailers that are Wal-Mart” to pay a minimum wage to employees of $12.50 an hour. Washington, D.C.’s current minimum wage law requires $8.25 an hour. Wal-Mart responded to this law by saying, “thanks, but no thanks” on plans for three new stores.
Mayor Vincent Gray has been wary of the law, but not said whether he’ll veto it. Now, the city’s top economic development official warns it may spook companies other than Wal-Mart:
Victor L. Hoskins, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, would not say whether he would recommend that Mayor Vincent C. Gray veto the legislation, which would require some large retailers to pay minimum wages and benefits of $12.50 an hour.
But he said its passage into law would have a “chilling impact” on retail growth in the city, driving away not only Wal-Mart — which has said it will abandon plans for three of six planned stores should the bill become law — but other national retailers considered more desirable by residents and elected officials.
“They’re killing the golden goose,” Hoskins said of city lawmakers. Though they may believe they’re targeting Wal-Mart, he added, other retailers “are concerned it may someday turn on them.”
Possibly at risk: West Coast grocery store chain Wegman’s and a Lowe’s:
Hoskins declined to name specific retailers who have expressed dismay at the council’s move. But besides the three Wal-Mart-anchored sites already known to be at risk, he said the bill could arrest development at the former Walter Reed Army Hospital site in Northwest and expansion of the Costco-anchored Shops at Dakota Crossing site along New York Avenue NE.
Wegmans, the New York-based megagrocery, has been rumored for more than a year as a possible anchor for the Walter Reed site. Lowe’s, the home improvement big-box, has been in talks to locate at Dakota Crossing.
Vincent Orange, one of the city’s pro-“living wage” politicians said: “We’re at a point where we don’t need retailers. Retailers need us.”
Then what explains the double-digit unemployment in the very sections of D.C. these stores would have located with their hundreds of jobs? And, what is Orange doing to find better employment for those who live there?
Dave Freddoso notes new retail might have been nice, not only for shoppers who have few options in various parts of the city, but for D.C.’s egregious youth unemployment of more than 30 percent or Ward 8’s 20+ percent unemployment. He also caveats his defense of Wal-Mart against this law with an account of Wal-Mart’s lobbying for a higher minimum wage several years ago to do exactly what its competitors are trying to do to it now— muscle them out of the competition. My caveat the other night was its sometimes obnoxious use of eminent domain, but I’d forgotten about this one. Neither one of them makes the “living wage” gambit fair or good for D.C., but definitely worth remembering.