| WASHINGTON, Sept 5
WASHINGTON, Sept 5 District of Columbia Mayor
Vincent Gray could decide as early as this week whether to sign
a minimum wage bill that could discourage Wal-Mart Stores Inc
, the world's biggest retailer, from opening stores in
the U.S. capital.
The bill, approved by the City Council two months ago, would
require big retailers to pay a 50 percent premium on the local
minimum wage, with backers saying that Wal-Mart and others can
easily afford it to get into the District of Columbia's
"We're glad (Wal-Mart has) finally recognized the value of
the District of Columbia," said Council member Vincent Orange, a
backer of the bill.
"But we also recognize the value of our residents, and the
value of one hour of our residents' time is greater than $8.25
(the local minimum wage)," he said on Wednesday.
Gray, a Democrat, has not said if he will sign the "living
wage" bill or veto it. A spokeswoman said a decision is likely
to come this week. But Orange said he thought the mayor would
take all the time allotted to make his decision. Gray has 10
business days from Sept. 3 to decide.
If he approves it, Wal-Mart could scrap plans to bring six
stores - and 1,800 jobs - to the Washington market, while
unemployment is on the rise in the District of Columbia.
While some cities such as San Francisco and Santa Fe, New
Mexico, have approved across-the-board minimum-wage hikes, the
bill would make Washington the first city to single out big-box
Washington's Large Retailer Accountability Act targets
non-unionized stores with more than 75,000 square feet (7,000
square meters) of interior space and whose parent companies have
yearly revenues of $1 billion a year.
They would have to pay a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour,
while the federal minimum is $7.25. The bill gives a four-year
exemption to big retailers already in the District of Columbia.
BROUGHT UP SHORT
The City Council's 8-5 vote in July approving the measure
brought up short years of efforts by Walmart, Wal-Mart's main
U.S. unit, to expand into the U.S. capital.
Steven Restivo, a Walmart spokesman, said that if the
measure took effect the company would halt plans to build three
stores awaiting the start of construction. They include two that
were set to be built in impoverished neighborhoods east of the
"We'll take a hard look at the three stores that are under
construction from a financial and legal perspective to see what
our next steps might be," he said on Tuesday.
Business leaders and the Washington Post have widely
criticized the measure. They claim it creates an uneven playing
field for Wal-Mart and will give the District of Columbia an
Executives from six major U.S. retailers, including Target
Corp and Home Depot Inc, wrote Gray a letter in
July urging him to veto the living wage bill.
"You don't go change the deal (with Wal-Mart). This is a
bait and switch," said Barbara Lang, president and chief
executive of the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
Chicago's City Council approved a similar measure in 2006
requiring Wal-Mart and other big retailers to pay much higher
wages, but Mayor Richard Daley vetoed it. Wal-Mart now has nine
stores in Chicago.
The face off over Wal-Mart and wages comes as federal budget
cuts have increased Washington's joblessness, marring an
economic upturn that has seen 1,000 people a month move into the
U.S. capital and generated a budget surplus.
District of Columbia unemployment rose to 8.6 percent in
July, from 8.4 percent in December and a percentage point above
the U.S. average.
Orange, the city council member, said supporters of the bill
were seeking one more vote on the 13-member council to be able
to override a Gray veto.
"We can't have you (Wal-Mart) come in here and pay poverty
wages and then your employees go on public assistance," he said.