The District Needs Better Wages for All Not the LRAA


You may wonder why someone who has advocated for the poor, the marginalized and the disadvantaged his entire career would veto the D.C. Council’s so-called “Large Retailer Accountability Act” (LRAA). But if you examine the bill closely, my decision makes abundant sense.

Many reasonable people advocated passionately for the bill, and I met with them (as well as bill opponents) and gave great weight to their arguments.

Nonetheless, after a thorough examination and analysis of what the LRAA actually would do, I came to the inescapable conclusion that it simply was bad policy that would fail to accomplish its own stated goal – giving a significant number of District residents the chance to find good jobs, earning good wages.

In fact, if this bill were to become law it would, in the end, harm the very people and neighborhoods in our city who most need jobs, economic development and new amenities.

Unfortunately, it appears a lot of misinformation about the bill has circulated during debate over its merits. Let me set the record straight.

For starters, the LRAA is not a true living-wage bill, because it would raise the minimum wage only for an insignificant fraction of jobs in the District. It would initially apply only to a very small number of workers employed by a very select number of targeted businesses. And the bill contains two enormous loopholes – exempting large retailers with labor agreements from paying the same minimum wage as their competitors, and failing to include some large global retailers (including companies with profit margins much larger than those of the retailers the LRAA directly targets) from paying a living wage. In all the advocacy I’ve heard for this bill, nobody has been able to explain to me why unionized workers employed by large retailers or non-union workers employed by companies who operate smaller retail outlets are less deserving of a living wage.

That is why I am proposing we raise the minimum wage for all District residents – regardless of who employs them, when their employer begins operating in the District, or whether or not their jobs are unionized.

Second, the LRAA does not represent a choice between jobs and higher-paying jobs; it represents a choice between jobs and no jobs. Nearly every large retailer now considering opening their first store in the District has indicated they will not come here if this bill becomes law. Meanwhile, other large retailers who already operate stores in the District have said they will scrap plans to expand here if the LRAA becomes law. While much of the publicity surrounding this bill has focused on Walmart, the list of retailers who have indicated they will seriously reconsider opening or expanding in the District if the LRAA becomes law includes Target, Home Depot, Wegmans, Lowe’s, Walgreens, Harris Teeter, AutoZone and Macy’s.

In short, this bill is a job-killer. Our deputy mayor for planning and economic development has estimated that, if it were to become law, the LRAA would cost more than 4,000 District jobs in just the first few years alone. At a time when federal sequestration and significant public-sector job losses threaten to stall the District’s economic boom; when our formerly-falling unemployment rate has stagnated; and when unemployment in parts of the city is as high as 22 percent, there is simply no compelling case for supporting a bill that would only exacerbate those problems.

The bill has additional flaws – it would do nothing to guarantee that any of the good-paying jobs that it purports to create would actually go to District residents; it would worsen our longstanding problem of “retail leakage” by encouraging large retailers to open new stores just across the District line rather than in our city, dealing a blow both to potential District-based jobs and tax revenue; it does nothing to help underserved parts of our city that currently have few or no decent retail options; and it would deal a huge blow to economic development in these same underserved neighborhoods, setting back some long-awaited projects for a generation or longer.

In short, the LRAA is a poor vehicle for achieving the outcomes that its advocates correctly desire. This is precisely why I look forward to working with the Council to do what President Obama proposed earlier this year and what several states and municipalities have already done in the recent past: Increase our minimum wage for all workers. If I were to sign this bill into law, it would do nothing but kill jobs, drive away retailers, and stymie our goal of prosperity for all.

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The District Needs Better Wages for All  Not the LRAA

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