Wal-Mart and Washington D.C. in minimum wage showdown

Thu Sep 5, 2013 3:46pm EDT
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By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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 (WMT.N: Quote), 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 of $8.25 per hour, with backers saying that Wal-Mart and others can easily afford it to get into the District of Columbia's fast-growing market.

"We're glad (Wal-Mart has) finally recognized the value of the District of Columbia," said Councilmember 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," Orange said on Wednesday.

Wal-Mart has been the target of nationwide demonstrations calling on the company to provide better pay and working conditions. In New York on Thursday, three dismissed Wal-Mart workers were arrested in a protest outside the office of Chrisopher Williams, a Walmart director, organizers said.

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 September 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 D.C. the first city to single out big-box retailers.   Continued...

The Wal-Mart company logo is seen outside a Wal-Mart Stores Inc company distribution center in Bentonville, Arkansas June 6, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking