Religious leaders have gotten into the fight against large retailers in the District of Columbia in support of ensuring residents of the city are making living wages.

Rev. Patrick J. Walker, president of the Baptist Convention of the District of Columbia, said he is urging D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray to sign the Large Retailer Accountability Act 2013 (LRAA).

“The Mayor should be more concerned about the citizens of the District of Columbia being able to have living wages—than the outside big box retailers who come in and make millions in our city,” said Walker. “The taxpayers have given more than enough to being these retailers in; now it’s time for the retailers to give something back to our workers.”

The act, which passed in the D.C. city council on July 10, would require large retailers with more than $1 billion in annual sales and stores of more than 750,000 square feet to pay employees a living wage of $12.50 an hour. Currently minimum wage in the district is $8.25.

The bill states it will help to promote living wage jobs and help working families “make ends meet and protect the health, safety and welfare of our community.”

According to the AFL-CIO, “The LRAA would lift thousands of working families in Washington, D.C., out of poverty and support decent wages across the retail industry.”

Walker and other supporters of the legislation are worried that Gray, who lobbied to bring Wal-Mart, a huge retailer and corporate chain store operator, in D.C. would veto the bill. The chain is scheduled to open six stores in D.C., which would employ at least 1,800 people.

“Large and extremely profitable corporations from outside the District attempted to bribe local officials with promises of jobs, while threatening to cancel the planned opening of stores in Washington if the City Council voted for the LRAA,” said the AFL-CIO in a press release. “The City Council’s vote was a brave repudiation of these shoddy threats.”

Alex Barron, regional manager for Wal-Mart, said in a recent essay in the Washington Post that the proposed wage requirement would “inject unforeseen costs to the equation that will create an uneven playing field and challenge the fiscal health of our planned D.C. stores.”

Walker said the legislation will ensure that District of Columbia residential spending, fueled by wages that enable them to meet the rising cost of living, would remain in the city.

“It’s more than just about jobs,” said Walker. “Being underemployed is almost as detrimental to our community as being unemployed.”

Walker said he is urging the mayor to join the district’s council in creating a “unified front” against larger retailers who want to undercut District of Columbia residents. He said local government is created to stand up for their constituents and keep their best interest in mind.

A slew of other civil rights organizations, labor unions and faith leaders support the act, too.


Krishana Davis

AFRO Staff Writers