Mayor Gray says he is taking his time contemplating the living wage bill, which has twice passed the DC Council by an 8 to 5 vote. The bill requires large retailers who have stores of at least 75,000 square feet in the District and whose parent companies gross more than $1 billion annually to pay employees DC’s living wage of $12.50 an hour.
This isn’t the first time that Gray has thought about the bill. In fact, the mayor has given answers in support of a large retailer living wage for some time. If the mayor wants to remain consistent with his past positions, his decision is straightforward: He should sign the bill.
In 2006, when Gray ran for DC Council Chairman, he was asked this question on a candidate questionnaire:
“Do you support passage of the Large Retailer Accountability Act which requires that retail stores larger than 75,000 square feet pay a living wage, provide adequate health benefits, and engage in first source hiring requirements?
Yes, Gray answered.
He also mentioned his support as councilmember for the city’s living wage law.
In late 2010, as he was transitioning into the mayor’s office, Mayor-elect Gray spoke specifically about the possibility of mega retailer WalMart becoming a DC employer on WTOP. “My view is they have to put on the table that they will pay competitive wages,” he said. “We think $12 and up with benefits is fair.”
WalMart at one time agreed, according to press reports, telling a group of DC ministers that pay would average $13 an hour.
As the District’s Dime has noted, research has found that large retailers are a good place to start raising wages because many of the jobs are low-paying, the companies are profitable, and raising wages has little impact on consumers. Retailers who do have higher average wages say they are rewarded with employee retention and productivity, which save the companies money. Mayor Gray acknowledged these companies in a town hall meeting in 2011: “[W]e have others that pay better wages”¦.like Costco, for example, or Target pays benefits as well as wages.”
There are important things to think about when it comes to District retail workers.
- Retail wages are low, and the poverty rate among retail workers is high. The minimum wage in DC is $8.25 an hour, which at 40 hours a week is a yearly salary of $17,160. One-out-of-10 employees who work for District retailers live below the federal poverty line, according to an analysis of Census data by the Economic Policy Institute.
- Raising retail wages would help many District households. Almost three-fourths of retail workers in DC are employed full-time, working at least 35 hours a week. And many support families with children.
- Retail workers in DC earn less than other workers. Even after taking into account factors such as age and education level, retail workers in DC earn a third less than other workers. That leaves them unable to afford even basic necessities like food, clothing, and rent for their families.
Mayor Gray, it’s time to sign the Large Retailer Accountability Act and help DC workers afford to live in this city.