D.C. Could Lead the Way for High Wage Wal-Mart Jobs

In D.C., lawmakers are considering a game-changing policy that will help struggling working families across the country.

Ha! No, it’s not Congress. It’s the Washington, D.C. City Council, which heard testimony on a the Large Retailer Accountability Act, a bill that would require large retailers in the city to pay wages no lower than $11.75 an hour plus benefits.

If there was any question as to what kind of store the bill was targeting, here’s a hint: the proposal defines “large retailers” as “businesses operating an indoor store of at least 75,000 square feet and whose corporate parent has sales of at least $1 billion.” Remind you of anyone you know? It starts with “wal.”

Wal-Mart announced plans in late 2011 to open as many as six stores in the District of Columbia, including east of the Anacostia River where unemployment is high and retail options are scarce. While there are many problems with the way Wal-Mart treats its workers, the concern about its low wages are paramount.

But a policy mandating a living wage for big box stores could mitigate many of the potential pitfalls of Wal-Mart’s expansion into the city – not to mention Lowes, Costco, Home Depot, Macy’s, and other potential employers. If Wal-Mart employees are paid enough to lift them out of poverty, that’s fewer people on welfare, SNAP and other public assistance programs. If Wal-Mart employees can get health insurance through their work, that’s fewer people on Medicaid – and fewer people using the emergency room as their primary care.

Furthermore, the success of such a citywide policies could embolden other communities to start dictating terms to Wal-Mart, instead of the other way around. You can operate in our community, they’ll say, but you’re going to operate by our rules.

It’s up to the D.C. City Council to lead the way for the nation – and it’s up to us to push them to do it. Tell the City Council to pass the Large Retailer Accountability Act.

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