Major retailers urge Gray veto of living wage bill, threaten to table expansion plans

A half-dozen major retailers have signed a letter to D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray urging him to veto the large retailer living wage bill, threatening to “revisit” expansion plans if the legislation is enacted.

Top executives with The Home Depot Inc., Target Corp., AutoZone Inc., Lowe’s Cos. Inc., Walgreen Co. and Macy’s Inc. “respectfully” requested that Gray kill the measure, which would force all retailers with 75,000 square feet, whose parent company’s grosses at least $1 billion a year, to pay their employees $12.50 an hour, net of benefits.

The legislation, they wrote, is “unfairly discriminatory” and “ill-advised,” singling out businesses “based solely on an arbitrary indoor footprint threshold, and does not address the proposed goal of improving job quality and opportunity in the District.”

With the passage of the Large Retailer Accountability Act,” the letter states, “any future plans for retail expansion in the city must be revisited. Arbitrary conditions that subject our stores to rules that other employers, including countless competitors, are not equally subjected to unfairly distort the marketplace and are cause for grave concern.”

The legislation, adopted last week by the D.C. Council, exempts unionized stores, including Giant and Safeway. Wal-Mart, which was planning to open six D.C. stores, is the obvious target of the bill, but this letter suggests other, major retailers are equally concerned about its effects.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has not yet delivered the bill to Gray, and there is no timeline for him to do so. Once Gray gets it, he’ll have 10 days to sign or veto.

The letter from the six retailers further states, “Given the geographic location of the District market, access to District consumers is not necessarily dependent on establishing multiple storefronts within the city boundaries. The unintended consequence of this legislation will continue to drive consumers outside of the city, where they are already spending more than a billion dollars annually on retail options available in the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia.”

The letters signatories include:

  • Kent Knutson, Home Depot’s vice president of government relations
  • Matt Zabel, Target’s vice president of government affairs
  • Ray Pohlman, AutoZone’s vice president of government and community relations
  • Scott Mason, Lowe’s vice president of government affairs
  • Donovan Pepper, Walgreen’s national director of local government relations
  • Richard Cohen, Macy’s group vice president of legislative affairs

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