Wal-Mart faceoff with DC fuels minimum wage debate

WASHINGTON (AP) — The bitter standoff between Wal-Mart and Washington, D.C. officials over the city’s effort to impose a higher minimum wage on big-box retailers is fueling a wider debate about how far cities should go in trying to raise pay for low-wage workers — and whether larger companies should be required to pay more.

Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, is fuming about a “living wage” bill approved by the D.C. Council that has an unusual twist — it would apply only to certain large retailers, forcing them to pay employees at least $12.50 an hour. That’s nearly 50 percent higher than city’s minimum wage of $8.25 an hour.

The measure is being cheered by unions and worker advocates who have long complained about Wal-Mart’s wages and working conditions. Opponents call it an unfair tactic that will discourage companies from doing business in the city.

Wal-Mart has threatened, if the bill becomes law, to cancel plans for three of the six stores it hopes to build in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods that are sorely in need of economic development. The measure is now before District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray.

The minimum wage in the nation’s capital already is higher than the federal rate of $7.25 an hour.

Other cities and states that have sought to raise the minimum wage above what is required have applied the hike to all businesses.

San Jose, Calif., recently raised its minimum from $8 to $10 an hour and San Francisco’s rate of $10.55 an hour is the highest in the nation.

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