DC’s Anti-Walmart Law Dies a Justified Death

Washington, DC Mayor Vince Gray addresses an audience at the Cadillac display at the 2011 Washington Auto Show January 27, 2011 at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC.

Photo by KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

An effort by the Washington, D.C. Council to effectively zone Walmart out of the city by establishing a separate and much higher minimum wage for large retailers whose workers don’t belong to a labor union has been vetoed by the mayor and rightly so. Safeway, Giant, and their unionized workers have a lot to gain by blocking Walmart from entering the market but the city has a lot to gain from more stores and more competition.

But even though this bill was cynical and misguided, a lot of the enthusiasm for it was neither. I hope that kind of energy gets channeled into a more constructive direction like a simple increase in the current $8.25 minimum wage. D.C. has all the right conditions in place for the cost of such an increase to be borne by landlords and high-income consumers. The $12.50 an hour figure from the Walmart bill is probably too high (which is why the legislation exempted so many businesses) but there’s a large middle ground between $8.25 and $12.50 for a wage hike that would help the full spectrum of low-wage workers and not just protect a handful of establishments.