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City Council Passes 'Living Wage' Law Despite Wal-Mart's Threat to Cancel Plans for 3 New Stores


Store spox says company is now reevaluating three stores already under construction.

The D.C. Council issued a legislative rebuke to Wal-Mart on Wednesday, approving a bill that would require the retail giant and other big-box chain retailers operating in the nation's capital to pay their employees a "living wage" of at least $12.50 an hour.

Wal-Mart has warned it would scrap plans for three of the six stores it had hoped to build in Washington if the bill becomes law.

That’s a lot of jobs. And Lord knows the District of Columbia could use them:

It was in response to populist outcry against the mega-retailer that the D.C. Council introduced the Large Retailer Accountability Act of 2013, a bill that would force Wal-Mart and other big-box retailers to pay employees well above the federal minimum wage.

Needless to say, the union-backed “living wage” law, which applies only to stores operating in spaces of 75,000 feet or more, caused the Arkansas-based company to cool on the idea of opening multiple stores in the nation’s capital.

“[A] Wal-Mart representative wrote in an op-ed published online by The Washington Post Tuesday that the retailer will abandon plans for three of those stores if the bill gains final approval from the D.C. Council,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

“Wal-Mart says the bill will also jeopardize three stores already under construction,” the report adds.

Council members were unimpressed.

"I don’t believe Wal-Mart at this point, that they’re gonna’ leave the District," said Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry. "That’s a stickup. And we’re not gonna’ be stuck up."

“You’re not gonna’ put a gun to my head," At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange added.

Orange added that if Wal-Mart wants to leave the District of Columbia, “the city could put a sound stage or amusement park in its place,” Washington City Paper notes.

Other Council members, on the other hand, took the threat much more seriously.

The loss of three stores (and countless jobs) would be a “nightmare,” said Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander before the vote.

But despite Alexander’s concerns, the Council voted 8-5 Wednesday afternoon to approve the measure.

Soon after the bill passed, a Wal-Mart spokesman repeated the company’s promise to axe three stores.

"Nothing has changed from our perspective: we will not pursue Skyland, Capitol Gateway, and New York Avenue and will start to review the financial and legal implications on the three stores already under construction," said Steven Restivo.

"This was a difficult decision for us -- and unfortunate news for most D.C. residents -- but the Council has forced our hand," Restivo added.

The bill will now head to the desk of Mayor Vincent Gray for final approval. However, considering the mayor's past remarks on the legislation, its future is uncertain.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray. (Getty Images)

"I strongly encourage the council to consider whether this bill would promote and encourage strong economic development for the district, improve the financial health of district residents, and improve the climate for businesses," Gray wrote to the council.

Gray has proposed raising the city’s minimum wage to $8.25 rather than singling out major retailers.


Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter

The AP contributed to this story.

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