D.C. Council Votes Unanimously in Favor of Minimum Wage Increase

The D.C. Council gave preliminary approval to increasing the District of Columbia's minimum wage to $11.50 an hour, one of the nation's highest, by 2016.

The council voted 13-0 to advance the bill, which will be voted on one more time before going to Mayor Vincent Gray.

Similar minimum wage hikes were approved by lawmakers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland last week.

Dozens of people gathered outside the Wilson Building Tuesday, holding signs and speaking out in favor of the minimum wage increase and paid sick days.

Nikki Lewis said she knows how hard it can be. She graduated from the University of Maryland and has worked as a restaurant server for 17 years.

"An increase in the base minimum wage for restaurant workers, for all low-wage workers in the city, is the difference between potentially being evicted or having to choose between, 'Am I going to buy food today, or am I going to pay that light bill?'" she said.

Mayor Gray supports raising the minimum wage from its current $8.25 to $10 an hour in 2014, but no higher. 

"The bill, in its current form, will harm District's regional competitiveness," Gray wrote in a letter to the council.

Under the bill, minimum wage would rise to $9.50 next summer; $10.50 in 2015, and $11.50 in 2016, and would index to inflation.

The council and the mayor clashed earlier this year over raising wages for workers at Walmart and other major retailers. The Large Retailer Accountability Act -- known colloquially as the "Walmart Bill" -- would have required big-box stores in the city to pay its employees a minimum of $12.50 an hour.

Gray vetoed that bill in September, after Walmart threatened to pull out of three planned stores in the district.

Groups that have protested Walmart, including "Making Change at Walmart," have said the average hourly wage for the retail giant's sales associates is $8.81 an hour, a number based on a study done by research group IBISWorld. However, Walmart said last Friday that it pays its full-time workers an average of $12.81 per hour.

"Of course, we have entry-level jobs and we always will," said David Tovar, vice president of Wal-Mart's Corporate Communications. "The real issue isn't where you start. It's where you can go once you've started."

The new minimum wage bill, which would apply for all businesses, large and small, already has enough support to override a potential mayoral veto.

Supporters say raising the minimum wage will allow low-wage workers to benefit from the city's prosperity, while opponents worry it will hurt the job market and the district's regional competitiveness.

"The mayor did not want to raise [the minimum wage] this high. The mayor did not want to index it [to inflation]," said D.C. Council member Tommy Wells before the vote. "But I feel certain that we're going to get a veto-proof majority today, and no one's going to be able to stop this train. We're going to help the people of the District of Columbia today."

The vote came on the eve of the opening of the city's first Walmart stores, at 99 H St. NW and 5929 Georgia Ave. NW. The stores were set to hire a combined 600 workers after receiving more than 23,000 applications.


Copyright AP - Associated Press
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