Walmart Wants to Kill D.C.'s Living Wage Bill

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A Walmart manager took to the pages of the Washington Post opinion section today to defend his company's right to not pay employees more than minimum wage.

In the op-ed Alex Barron, a regional manager for the company, called a piece of legislation to raise the minimum wage paid out by large companies "arbitrary[and] discriminatory." The so-called "living wage" bill, the Larger Retailer Accountability Act, would require businesses that make at least $1 billion in revenue to pay their employees $12.50 an hour. (The bill only applies to stores that take up more than 75,000 square feet, thereby excluding such chains as Starbucks.) The current minimum wage for all D.C. employees is $8.25 an hour, one of the highest in the country.

Last month the D.C. Council voted 8-5 to give the bill their initial approval. The council will meet again on Wednesday to make their final vote and Walmart, is very, very unhappy with this turn of events. So unhappy, in fact, that the company hasy threatened to halt the development of three Walmart stores in the area. Barron writes:

Like any business, we have a responsibility to our customers, employees and shareholders to re-evaluate our options when it looks like local rules may significantly change. The LRAA would clearly inject unforeseen costs into the equation that will create an uneven playing field and challenge the fiscal health of our planned D.C. stores.

As a result, Wal-Mart will not pursue stores at Skyland, Capitol Gateway, and New York Avenue, if the LRAA is passed. What’s more, passage will also jeopardize the three stores already under construction as we will thoroughly review the financial and legal implications of the bill on those projects.

The new Walmart locations would have brought in an estimated 1,800 new jobs for the District, as well as $15 million in tax revenue. The company also wanted to point out that it has been trying to help the community in its own small, mega-corporate way. After listening to the community, which Barron said wanted "local hiring, competitive wages, an inclusive construction process, local products and support for community non-profits," the company voluntarily entered into a Community Partnership Initiative with the city. In the initiative the company outlined plans to:

[S]tock local products, allow space for local retailers, provide good jobs, ensure an inclusive construction process, fund transportation measures, create a city-wide job training program, and support non-profits to help fulfill unmet needs throughout the city.

Is it possible that Walmart's just the tiniest bit offended? They say they tried to be good corporate neighbors and the District responded with a bill that, in Barron's words, "discriminates against business and threatens to undo all that we have accomplished together." It's all starting to sound more like a bad break-up than a wage standoff. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.