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Wal-Mart Turns Up the Heat

Gray Under Pressure to Veto Bill

James Wright | 7/10/2013, noon
In a move that can only be characterized as a power play, the nation's largest retailer has made it clear ...
Wal-Mart had planned to build six stores in the District. Courtesy Photo

In a move that can only be characterized as a power play, the nation's largest retailer has made it clear to the mayor of the District of Columbia that it’s not happy with a pending bill that would substantially raise the minimum wage. The titan of all retailers fully expects him to veto the legislation.

The D.C. Council passed the "Large Retailer Accountability Act" – which would require big-box retailers to pay their employees a minimum of $12.50 an hour – by a vote of 8-5 on June 26. Steven Restivo, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, objects to the council's action and said it’s detrimental to the District.

"We ultimately think it will lead to higher prices, less jobs and fewer stores from some of the country's largest brands like Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Macy's and Target," Restivo said during a recent interview on WMAL radio. "If you look at two of the largest grocery chains in the country – Safeway and Giant – they both remain exempt from this legislation for some reason, and I think that fact tells you everything you need to know about who is driving this."

For decades, employees of both Safeway and Giant have been represented by unions. Small retail stores would not be affected by the bill.

The D.C. Council is scheduled to vote on the “Large Retailer Accountability Act” during its second and final reading on Wednesday, July 10. However, on Tuesday, July 9, Restivo confirmed that if the D.C. Council approves the legislation, Wal-Mart will deep six plans to build the New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road store in Northeast along with the Skyland Town Center and East Capitol Street stores in Southeast. Ultimately, the fate of the bill will rest in the hands of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. Restivo hopes Gray gives the pending legislation the thumbs-down.

"We think it makes sense for Mayor Gray to veto this discriminatory legislation, because it runs counter to every economic development platform this administration has identified as a priority for D.C.," he said.

Wal-Mart had originally planned to build six stores in the District. Construction continues at the three other store sites which will be located in Fort Totten in Northeast; Georgia and Missouri Avenues in Northwest; and First and H Streets in Northwest. Business leaders are ecstatic about the stores generating thousands of jobs for District residents and tens of millions in revenue for the District. However, union leaders and progressive activists are concerned about Wal-Mart's reputation for decimating small businesses, its history of racial and sexual discrimination and the fact that some of its goods are produced in China under slave labor conditions.

Restivo speculates that if Gray signs the bill, other big-box retailers will summarily dismiss the District as a prime locale.

However, Gray said he’s waiting to see what bill arrives on his desk.

"I have not seen the bill," said Gray, 70. "I have not talked to anyone about the bill."

If Gray vetoes the bill, it would take nine votes to override him.