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By TRIP GABRIEL
Published: July 20, 2013
WASHINGTON An attempt by the City Council to force profitable chain stores to pay much higher wages than the city?s minimum has infuriated Walmart, which is threatening to pull out of up to six planned stores.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who worked hard to lure Walmart, finds himself caught in the middle, and many residents sound less than grateful to lawmakers.
Those big people in government, they don't understand my situation, said Fred Reaves, 45, who is unemployed and said he would gladly take a job at the current city minimum, $8.25.
Eight-something, it'll motivate you to start going to work, Mr. Reaves said as he stood around the Skyland Town Center, a patch of barren asphalt and shuttered stores where Walmart planned to build. You can start paying some bills. It will help you to come off public assistance.
On July 10, the City Council passed a living wage measure that would require Walmart to pay at least $12.50 an hour, saying it was fighting to protect struggling residents in what has become a high-cost city.
Supporters of the measure say that Walmart, whose revenues in 2012 were $469 billion, can well afford to pay workers more.
Their net income was $17 billion, said Vincent Orange, a city councilman who voted for the ordinance. You don't want to share a little bit with the citizens Come on.
A decade ago, the city gave tax breaks to lure retailers, Mr. Orange said, but now it is booming and can negotiate from strength.
The day before the City Council passed the measure, a Walmart official warned in an op-ed article in The Washington Post that if required to pay $12.50 an hour, the company would cancel three planned stores and consider withdrawing from three projects already under construction.
The next move is up to Mayor Gray, who is weighing a veto.
Officially the mayor has taken no position, but he is widely seen as opposed to the measure. The Council has delayed formally sending it to his desk for action. The measure, called the Large Retailer Accountability Act, would require stores of at least 75,000 square feet that are owned by companies with $1 billion or more in annual revenue to pay the higher minimum wage. Because existing stores and those with unions are exempt, it is seen as squarely aimed at Walmart.
As Walmart, the world's largest retailer, has sought inroads in major cities, it has faced resistance from local merchants, who fear being undercut, and from officials who say minimum-wage jobs mire workers in poverty.
Democrats on the House of Representatives work force committee produced a report this spring contending that the government subsidizes Walmart because employees earn so little that they qualify for Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance.
Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Mayor Gray, argued the opposite: minimum-wage jobs help the chronically unemployed take a first step into the work force.
?Yes, Walmart jobs are not great, Mr. Ribeiro said. ?But for some people, it will be their first employment and they're not qualified to do anything else. We need that entry-level benchmark in the District.