A bill that would raise the minimum wage of employees at large retailers to $12.50 an hour cleared its initial hurdle at the D.C. Council meeting Wednesday, according to the Washington Post.
If the Large Retailer Accountability Act passes a second round of voting and is signed by Mayor Vincent Gray (D), the new "living-wage" rate would be a significant increase from the current minimum of $8.25 an hour. However, it would only affect retailers whose businesses operate in spaces of at least 75,000 square feet, like Target and the planned Walmart stores.
The bill passed after an hour of debate. The eight to five vote divided mayoral candidates and councilmembers who represent wards where three Walmart stores are slated to open.
"If this is about sticking it to Walmart, we should be honest and say so," said Councilwoman Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) during the discussion, according to the Washington City Paper.
But other councilmembers argued that the bill isn't anti-business, and instead is "for the people," as Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) explained. Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) agreed with Orange's sentiment.
"The District government has an obligation not just to encourage the development and growth of jobs, but to encourage the development and growth of quality jobs," Mendelson told his colleagues while introducing the bill.
Mendelson was joined by Councilman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) in supporting the measure. Evans, another mayoral candidate, tweeted that he was "Glad to secure a living wage for the residents of the District of Columbia" after the bill was passed.
Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), also running for mayor, voted against it. He claimed the legislation would have "negative impacts and direct consequences for some of the poorest areas of our city," arguing that large retailers would avoid opening locations on the eastern side of the Anacostia River, "in the communities of our city with the greatest need."
Gray did not take a definitive stance on the bill, urging the council to instead "take additional time to continue its work through this significantly important bill to ensure an appropriate balance is achieved between improving the lives of our workforce, and encouraging business attraction and retention."
The final vote on the bill, which was lauded by labor unions but was castigated by pro-business organizations, is scheduled for July 10.