D.C. Wages Likely to Remain Hot Political Topic | District Notebook

Posted September 18, 2013 at 5:09pm

The District of Columbia is likely to remain a hot spot in the nation’s “living wage” debate, despite the downfall of a D.C. Council bill that would have mandated higher wages at certain large retailers in the city.

Mayor Vincent Gray has set his sights on increasing D.C.’s $8.25 minimum wage as part of his fall legislative agenda, saying Wednesday that he wants to craft a broader bill that guarantees higher pay “not for some, but for a lot.”

Gray vetoed the Large Retailer Accountability Act last week, calling it a “job-killer” that would strike a “huge economic blow to the city,” in part because Walmart threatened to back out of three stores it had planned for the District if the bill was passed.

The D.C. Council needed nine votes to overturn the mayoral veto, but fell two short in the final tally on Tuesday. Gray said he hoped the council could move on from the 7-6 vote and build on the “considerable common ground” going forward.

Gray avoided numbers Wednesday, saying he would want to consult with stakeholders from the Chamber of Commerce, Board of Trade, District of Columbia Building Industry Association and worker advocates first. He wants to discuss a target wage, a timeline for the increases and whether wages should be indexed to the cost of living.

“There are a number of questions associated with this that I want to tackle,” he said.

Two council members have introduced proposals.

At-large Councilmember Vincent Orange wants to increase the minimum wage to $12.50 in four steps and tie future increases to the Consumer Price Index. Waiters and other tipped workers would see their minimum wages rise from $2.77 to $8.25 per hour.

Councilmember Tommy Wells, who represents Capitol Hill and is campaigning for mayor, introduced a bill to increase the minimum wage by $1 over each of the next two years up to $10.25 and also tie future increases to the Consumer Price Index.

That upward momentum would reflect President Barack Obama’s vision for the minimum wage. In his most recent State of the Union address, the president suggested increasing the federal rate from $7.25 to $9, and argued that the minimum wage should automatically rise with the cost of living.

D.C. and 18 states have minimum wages above the federal level. Workers in the District currently must be paid at least $8.25.

But any D.C.-approved increase would need to survive congressional review, and Republicans have rejected minimum wage increases. In March, the House GOP voted unanimously in opposition to a proposal by Education and the Workforce ranking member George Miller, D-Calif., to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour over the next two years.

When asked about prospects for increasing the D.C. minimum wage on Capitol Hill, Gray said, “Congress hasn’t intervened recently, that I know of, with any legislation, and I hope it stays that way. I think whatever decisions are made should be the decisions of the people of the District of Columbia. That’s why we have a legislative body.”