Thies: D.C.'s War on Walmart Is a Job Killer

Thousands of District residents are unemployed. A big employer wanted to set up shop. The D.C. Council chased off that employer.

Yesterday, by an 8-5 vote, the Council passed legislation to impose a $12.50 per hour minimum wage on Walmart stores operating in the District. The law applies to some other large retailers as well, but in truth it was specifically designed to target Walmart.

Most businesses in D.C. are required to pay a minimum wage of $8.25 per hour.

Walmart responded by saying it will cancel at least three of the six stores it had planned to open in the District. As well, Walmart is exploring “financial and legal implications” regarding the three other locations that are currently under construction.

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D.C. Mayor Vince Gray can (and should) veto the legislation. The Council could overturn his veto, but they will need to muster nine votes to do so.

Even if Gray upends the Council’s hackneyed law, the ramifications of its folly could be profound.

Other businesses will surely view the District more skeptically now. Why invest in D.C., a town where lawmakers are unpredictable, when Maryland and Virginia are just a few hundred yards away?

Economic development is now at risk in parts of town where it is sorely needed.

Walmart planned to deliver affordable goods and jobs to some of the District’s most challenged neighborhoods. Families who currently drive or ride a bus to purchase groceries and other sundries would soon be shopping within blocks of their homes. Sales tax would be headed into the District’s coffers.

The Council saw all of this as a bad idea.

Instead, this is what eight Council members think is a good idea: whack Walmart as part of a decades-long battle that has pitted unions and Democrats against the retailer. Forget about the collateral damage that thousands of District residents will suffer.

Let’s be clear, the Council’s legislation has nothing to do with establishing a “living wage.” Any genuine effort to set a living wage would cover all businesses operating in the District.

Folks who have little or no work experience are suffering. A job in retail is one way to build a career from the ground up. It is not easy to support a family on $8.25 or $12.50 per hour. Indeed, for many people, a second job might be necessary. But a job and a paycheck is better than unemployment and welfare.

The D.C. Council has no answers for the mess it created.

The eight Council members who thumbed their noses at Walmart are not hiring.

Chuck Thies is a political, communications and advocacy consultant. From 1998 to 2010 his portfolio included District of Columbia politics. Chuck has worked on national projects and internationally in Europe, Africa, the Middle East , China and Mexico. If you are daring, follow him on twitter @ChuckThies.

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