The so-called living wage bill was clearly aimed at retail giant Wal-Mart, which was scheduled to open as many as six new stores in D.C. in the coming years. The bill would have raised the minimum wage from the city's current $8.25 an hour to $12.50 in combined wages and benefits for stores with corporate sales of $1 billion or more and operating district stores of at least 75,000 square feet.
The D.C. council passed the Large Retailer Accountability Act by an 8-5 vote last month, and unless at least one council member changes his or her vote, the council will not be able to override the mayor's veto, which requires at least nine votes. That's good news for D.C. workers -- including those making minimum wage now.
Wal-Mart has become the bete noire of leftist activists and unions. The retail giant is the nation's largest private employer, many of whose workers earn relatively low wages, and yet has been able to fend off labor unions for decades. Big Labor has launched aggressive anti-Wal-Mart campaigns, and last month a coalition of unions and left-wing activists held demonstrations in several cities protesting wages and benefits at Wal-Mart and several big fast-food employers.
But these efforts have done little to convince workers to join unions, and so unions have changed tactics. Unions aren't very good at organizing workers -- the rate of union membership among private-sector employees is down to 6.6 percent, the lowest on record -- but they are good at electing union-friendly politicians. So, when Wal-Mart workers show little interest in joining unions, the unions turn to their friendly legislators to punish the company with laws such as the Large Retailer Accountability Act.
Of course, proponents claim the legislation is nothing of the sort -- it's just a bill to ensure employers pay workers a "living wage." But if that were true, why does the bill target only certain employers while exempting others? The unions don't seem to care whether workers at other retailers in D.C. earn the minimum $12.50 an hour -- and specifically exempt employers with union contracts in place even if they meet the bill's other major criteria and pay less than the proposed minimum.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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