The hearing room was packed with supporters.

The hearing room was packed with supporters.

The lines were long yesterday to get into the Wilson Building as over 100 residents overflowed the council chambers in support of the Large Retailer Accountability Act of 2013. The bill would require big box retailers, those with stores over 75,000 square feet and over $1 billion dollars in total revenue, pay the DC living wage and follow the first source hiring law.

The big box retailers, who now typically pay close to the DC minimum wage of $8.25 an hour (Walmart’s average pay is $8.81 according to IBIS World), launched a massive telemarketing and public relations campaign, including setting up a website and “astro turf” organization, “Don’t Block DC Progress” which called for a 7:45am rally and was encouraging DC residents to show up in opposition to the bill, which they claimed would kill jobs.

The turnout at the advertised start time of the "Don't Block DC Progress" rally

The turnout at the advertised start time of the “Don’t Block DC Progress” rally

Unfortunately for them, DC residents are not that easily fooled. At the start time for their rally, there were less than 5 people gathered outside the building, and only around a dozen turned up all day. Many of them had decided they support the bill after hearing the testimony of the over 20 people who spoke in favor of the need to make sure big box stores provide good jobs for DC residents.

Several members of the council showed up, including the sponsor of the bill, Chairman Phil Mendelson, who was not buying claims that the bill would be bad for DC, saying, “Often our debate on the council is only about the number of jobs, not about the quality of those jobs.”

Walmart, despite spending a lot of money lobbying against the bill, chose not show up and be held publicly accountable. This did not sit well with committee chairman and At-Large Council member Vincent Orange, who wondered several times why Walmart was comfortable meeting in private with council members, publishing opinion pieces in the newspaper, and submitting lots of written testimony, but refused to sit and answer questions in a public forum. In fact, none of the large retailers who claim this bill would be bad for business bothered to show up.

It may be because their claims do not stand up to scrutiny. The idea that the law is unconstitutional and discriminatory was debunked by both Phil Mendelson, who said the government is allowed to make rules impacting business, such as the 8-hour work day, and by Ari Weisbard of the Employment Justice Center, who pointed out that DC already has a paid sick days law that treats large employers differently.

Many speakers, including Anne Hoffman from Jews United for Justice and Marina Streznewski from the DC Jobs Council, pointed out that many studies have shown that is actually good for business AND job growth to increase the wages of low income workers. Mike Wilson, representing Respect DC, quoted from a recent study by Demos, which points out that, “Families living in or near poverty spend close to 100 percent of their income just to meet their basic needs, so when they receive an extra dollar in pay, they spend it on goods or services that were out of reach before. This ongoing unmet need makes low-income households more likely to spend new earnings immediately – channeling any addition to their income right back into the economy, creating growth and jobs.”

Others, including Nikki Lewis, the Executive Director of DC Jobs with Justice, argued that this bill would make sure that more DC residents shared in the prosperity which so far has only extended to some parts of the city. Requiring retailers that can afford it to pay a living wage to DC residents will increase the stability of families and communities and will allow residents to get jobs, get off public assistance, and remain in DC. If you haven’t yet, make sure you let your council member know you support this important bill by sending them an email here.

We would like to thank everyone who came out to support and to testify, including: OUR DC, Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO, Plymouth United Congregational Church of Christ, Fair Budget Coalition, DC Employment Justice Center, United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 400, DC Jobs with Justice, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, DC Jobs CouncilJews United for Justice, DC for Democracy, OUR Walmart, Making Change at Walmart, Ward 4 Thrives, Faith Strategies, Living Faith Baptist Church and International Ministries, Forward 7, DC Statehood Green Party, and anyone we forgot to mention.

Check out news coverage of the hearing here, here, and here.


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