Debate in the District put national attention on the low wages paid to many workers at large retail chains like Walmart. Though proponents said the bill wasn't aimed specifically at Walmart, the company's plans to open six new stores in the city appeared to prompt the action.
The bill would require retailers with corporate sales of at least $1 billion and operating stores of at least 75,000 square feet to pay their D.C. employees a “living wage” of no less than $12.50 per hour including benefits.
The bill includes an exemption for employers who allow their workers to unionize. Existing employers would have four years to come into compliance.
The city's existing minimum wage is $8.25 per hour, and the bill would raise a full-time minimum wage worker's yearly earnings from about $17,000 to $26,000.
In a letter to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Gray said the bill was “not a true living-wage bill, because it would raise the minimum wage only for a small fraction of the District’s workforce." He also revealed his intention to seek a minimum wage increase for all employers.
But he also called the bill a "job-killer," citing Walmart's announcement that they would scrap three of the six planned store if the bill passed. Other retailers also threatened not to open in the city.
Walmart's ultimatum didn't change any City Council votes. The bill initially passed 8-5. To override the mayor's veto, nine of the 13 members must vote yes. None has indicated yet whether their vote could change.
In 2006, a similar bill passed Chicago city council in response to planned Walmart stores. Mayor Richard Daley vetoed the bill and an override vote narrowly failed.
Walmart spokesman Steven Restivo called the veto “good news for D.C. residents,” and said that if the override fails, "all stores are back on."