DC’s Living Wage Bill (good news and bad news)
First the good news: The DC living wage bill, a measure that would force certain big-box retailers to pay a living wage of at least $12.50 per hour, was recently passed by the DC city council.
Next the better news: Wal-Mart stridently objected to the living wage bill — actually issuing DC councilmembers with an ultimatum: kill the bill or Wal-Mart would halt construction of three of its six planned stores.
Why is this good news? Well, for starters, Wal-Mart stores tend to bring many difficulties into local communities, including fewer small businesses, poverty wages, and a higher taxpayer burden.
The bad news is the bill isn’t out of the woods yet — DC Mayor Vincent Gray, who has the power to veto the bill, is being urged to shut the whole thing down by other mega-retailers such as Target and Home Depot.
We spoke with DC Council Member Vincent Orange on why he’s taken a leadership position on the living wage bill, his thoughts on the possibility of a veto and his personal vision for DC’s economy.
Green America / Martha van Gelder: What kind of responses to the bill have you gotten from your constituents?
DC Councilmember Vincent Orange: I’ve gotten good response — [voters] want us to stay strong and keep pushing the living wage bill. We’re going to see if we can get a ninth vote of support so we can override the mayor if he vetoes it.
Martha: How hard is it to live in Washington, DC on minimum wage?
Orange: DC is the ninth most expensive city to live in – our expenses are 42% higher than the average US city. The housing market has doubled in cost. It is extremely difficult to live off of $8.25 per hour, which comes to a yearly salary of about $17,000.00.
Martha: You‘ve noted that 1,000 people are moving to DC each month — and that you want to make sure the people who were here during the bad times get to stay for the good times. What are your plans for making that happen?
Orange: By ensuring the entities that are coming to town are providing good jobs, jobs that citizens can utilize to purchase a home and have a good quality of life without government assistance – people shouldn’t have a full-time job and yet rely on the government to provide food stamps, and housing assistance, where your kids have to get reduced fare lunches. DC residents should have full-time jobs where you can stand on your own.
We do not believe at this point that Wal-Mart is offering that kind of job. What Wal-Mart does is they pay poverty wages and shift the social cost to Government and the tax payers of DC.
Martha: If Wal-Mart doesn’t represent your ideal DC employer, what is your vision for DC’s economy?
Orange: My vision includes implementing policy that consists of the ability to earn a living wage, have affordable housing, affordable health care, and quality education. Then our citizens can prosper. We would like more partners like Costco who are paying an average of $21 per hour. 84% of DC Costco employees are DC residents. That is the kind of company we want to grow and prosper with.
Want to learn more?
In the last issue of the Green American magazine, we explore the question of whether “made in the USA” means sweatshop-free. We found that it doesn’t — and Wal-Mart’s labor practices are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the mistreatment of workers in the US.
How can you ensure your dollars aren’t supporting worker abuse? Subscribe to our magazine, sign up for our free e-newsletter, or read up on the “Fair Labor at Home” tips from the latest issue of our magazine.