Vincent Gray vetoes so-called Walmart bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WJLA) - District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed Thursday the bill that would have forced large retailers like Walmart to pay what the city called a living wage.

Calling the Large Retailer Accountability Act "woefully inadequate and flawed," Gray's veto send the bill back to the D.C. Council for a possible override.

The bill passed by an 8-5 vote on July 10. The council would need nine votes to reverse Gray's veto.

"I am vetoing this legislation precisely because I believe in providing a living wage to as many District residents as possible - and this bill is not a true living-wage measure," Mayor Gray said in a statement.

The Large Retailer Accountability Act would have forced Walmart and other big box stores that operate in the district to pay a minimum wage of $12.50 per hour. That's $4.25 higher than the city's blanket minimum wage.

Instead, the mayor expressed his interest in raising the city's minimum wage citywide in an equitable fashion.

In his statement, Gray called the legislation a "job killer" that would only affect a small fraction of the city's workforce. He also said that the passage of the bill would not guarantee that the new, higher-paying jobs would even go to D.C. residents.

"Nearly every large retailer now considering opening a store in the District has indicated that they will not come here or expand here if this bill becomes law," Gray said. "People would begin to see that the District of Columbia is not a good place to do business."

Out in the District, ABC 7 came across more negative reactions to the veto than not by those disappointed by the mayor’s decision.

"He did? Aww, that's bad -- I think that's bad," said D.C. resident Cary Churches.

"I'm angry and I'm disgusted," says Cynthia Murray. "One worker does two or three peoples job, and it's happening in every store across the country!" Murray has worked for 13 years at the Laurel location, and says the low pay requires her to make sacrifices every day.

For instance, dinner is out of the question, despite Murray working 40 hours a week at the fitting room. She was hopeful that signing the bill into law in D.C. would set the groundwork to raise wages in the stores surrounding the District.

But now, Murray says the veto just doomed salaries across the region:

"You get a 40-cent raise a year -- what do you think that's going to do for anybody?"

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson also expressed disappointment in Gray after he vetoed the bill, saying that the District isn't interested in attracting low-paying jobs.

While the legislation targeted a broad number of stores, the biggest resistance came from Walmart, which has been building and is planning to build six of the chain's stores in the District.

Just before the D.C. Council was to vote on the bill, though, the company said it would cancel three of their planned Washington locations if Mayor Gray signed the bill.

In a statement released just after Gray's veto, Walmart officials celebrated the mayor's decision as the scuttling of "discriminatory legislation."

"We look forward to finishing the work we started in the city almost three years ago: a plan to bring more jobs, shopping options and fresh food choices to Washington, D.C. residents," Walmart officials said.

A Walmart official told NewsChannel 8's Bruce DePuyt that the company's plan to build all six stores is back on, assuming that there's no override of the mayor's veto.

On the other hand, members of Respect DC, a grassroots organization which advocated for the signing of the LRAA, decried Gray's decision as disappointing and angering.

It is widely suggested that Councilman Tommy Wells was the swing vote that could have blocked the veto. He tells ABC 7’s Sam Ford why he sided with the mayor:

"I have to do what I think is best for the whole city," he said.

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This is a developing story. More to come.