The following letter was sent to Mayor Gray on July 17, 2013.
The Hon. Vincent Gray
Executive Office of the Mayor
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 316
Washington, D.C. 20004
Dear Mayor Gray:
DC for Democracy was one among many District organizations that work for economic justice to testify in March before the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in support of the Large Retailer Accountability Act of 2013. DC for Democracy continues to advocate for passage of the LRAA and a “living wage” for employees of large, highly profitable national retailers.
Retail as an industry has come to rely on paying poverty-level wages. Retail is a major source of employment in the District, but “even after taking into account factors such as education level and age, workers in retail in DC earn one-third less than other workers.”1 The average age of a retail employee in the District is 34. These are not students; these are people who need livelihoods. Our city’s minimum wage cannot support a single person, let alone a family. Retail workers need a raise.
Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning points out that sales lost to Walmart in neighboring jurisdictions deprive the city of close to $250,000 in sales-tax revenues. But when Walmart employs District residents at compensation below a living wage, the city will continue to bear the burden of Medicaid and other safety net benefits for those employees. The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce reported in May: “[A] single 300-employee Wal-Mart Supercenter in Wisconsin may cost taxpayers anywhere from $904,542 to nearly $1.75 million per year, or about $5,815 per employee.” Tregoning’s calculation ignores income tax revenues lost to lower wages; sales tax revenues lost to residents’ reduced spending power; and the loss in sales tax revenues from retailers closing under pressure from Walmart.
While the LRAA is not about Walmart—it was first introduced in 2006, when Walmart was a speck on the horizon—this corporation has become the public face of opposition to the bill and threatens to abandon plans to open three, or even all six, stores in DC. Their underlying message is that the District government—and by extension, DC residents—may play only a marginal role in our city’s future. We look to you to demonstrate that the world’s largest retailer may not undermine the District’s hard-won autonomy.
Ward 7 residents have waited a long time for development in Skyland, and must be deeply disappointed by Walmart’s threats to vacate that site. However, their anger and disappointment is misplaced. Neither the Council majority nor the LRAA is the villain in this piece. Rather, it is the behavior of Walmart, its refusal to negotiate with the District on any aspect of its hiring practices. A veto of the LRAA could be interpreted to mean that Ward 7 residents have no choice but to accept poverty wages for the foreseeable future. As Mayor, you have an obligation to offer a vision of economic development that benefits DC workers just as much as big business. We urge you to sign the Large Retailer Accountability Act of 2013.
Chair, DC for Democracy