The Large Retailer and Accountability Act of 2013 (LRAA), passed by the DC City Council last week, will arrive on Mayor Vincent Gray’s desk Wednesday.
The bill establishes a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour for workers at retail stores with more than 75,000 square feet and whose parent company makes over $1 billion in gross revenues annually.
This bill was not controversial until Walmart, with plans to bring six stores into the District of Columbia, threatened to cancel three of those projects if the bill passed.
Despite that threat, here are five reasons Mayor Gray should sign the LRAA when it gets to his desk. Are you listening, Mr. Mayor? Here we go:
1.) Minimum wage is not enough. DC’s minimum wage is $8.25 an hour, or $1 higher than the federal minimum. But if the minimum wage had kept pace with worker productivity since 1968, it would be $18.67 an hour.
That sounds high, right? That’s because even as us workers have been more productive than ever, wages haven’t followed. Instead, the top 1 percent of earners have captured most of the economic growth of the last 40 years for themselves.
Mayor Gray, you know this is the case. You discussed raising the minimum wage for DC earlier this year, and DC requires a minimum wage of $11.75 for federal contractors. Establishing a living wage for notoriously underpaid retail employees is a great step toward ensuring us workers have a wage that even approaches our incredible and ever-increasing productivity.
2.) Living in DC is expensive. $7.25 or $8.25 an hour is not enough to make it in most places in America, and it’s certainly not enough to make it in DC. The District is the second most expensive place to live in the country, just behind New York City.
According to an EPI analysis, a family of four needs a combined income of $88,615 a year to live in DC, or $70.235 for a single parent with one child. Even if a retail employee worked 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year at $8.25, that’s $17,160 a year. At the living wage established in the LRAA, that’s $26,000 a year – not nearly enough, but a much-needed boost that would lift two-thirds of DC’s working poor families out of poverty.
3.) Save taxpayer money. Imagine, Mayor Gray, if you could return to voters in the next election and tell them you saved thousands of their taxpayer dollars. Hey, you can!
It’s no secret that big box retailers pay low wages, particularly Walmart. But because of those low wages, the bill for providing health care and basic living expenses for those retail employees falls to the taxpayer.
A report from the Democratic staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce that because of Walmart’s low wages, a 300-person Walmart Supercenter store costs taxpayers – not shoppers, taxpayers – between $904,000 and $1.7 million a year, or about $5,815 per employee, in Medicaid, SNAP, EBT, state health insurance, reduced-price school breakfast and lunch, heating assistance, housing assistance, and other public programs.
By paying a living wage at big box retailers, Mayor Gray, you are easing the burden on us taxpayer and placing it back on the big, enormously profitable retailers themselves.
4.) A city’s leaders set policy, not corporations. Opponents of LRAA claim that the bill unfairly targets Walmart. But the only reason we’re talking about Walmart is because they are the only retailer threatening to leave the city over the bill. Target, Home Depot, Macy’s, and other stores would also be affected, yet we are not hearing the same kind of protest from them.
Walmart is different a.) because as the country’s largest private employer they wield incredible power and b.) they are used to getting their way. It used to be that companies set up shop in cities and towns after agreeing to that community’s standards. Walmart wants it to be the other way around.
Mayor Gray, if you veto the LRAA, it will be out of fear of Walmart’s threats. What if you veto the bill and Walmart or another retailer makes a different threat? How much will we give away?
5.) The precedent is important. If all a corporation has to do is threaten to leave every time a community tries to improve conditions for workers, it will never stop. Think about it: The next threat could be about benefits. Or scheduling. Or sick days. Or, why not, child labor law. If we give in on LRAA, it will signal to Walmart and their friends that bullying works. Just threaten to leave a city and the city will offer whatever concession you want.
This started as a local issue regarding a living wage for retail workers. But now, Mayor Gray, the eyes of the country are upon our nation’s capital. Please do the right thing and sign the LRAA.