Gray’s stance on Wal-Mart not as straightforward as 3 years ago

WASHINGTON – Wal-Mart stores intending to open in the District should pay employees at least $12 an hour, Mayor-elect Vince Gray told WTOP in 2010.

The exclusive interview that aired Dec. 31, 2010 reveals a candor Gray has recently avoided when addressing the topic of the world’s largest retailer and its future in the city.

In July, the city council passed the Large Retailer Accountability Act, which requires big box stores to pay workers at least $12.50 an hour in wages, or wages and benefits that equal that amount.

The measure would affect retailers with corporate sales of $1 billion or more that have retail space of 75,000 square feet or more.

It took more than seven weeks for the bill dubbed the “living wage” bill to arrive on Gray’s desk.

Under the measure, those large retailers would be required to pay workers $4.25 an hour more than the current D.C. minimum wage.

Gray still hasn’t said publicly if he will sign or veto the bill.

He has less than a week to act.

The decision could have major implications for the future of jobs, wages and retail locations in the city.

Wal-Mart has even threatened not to open certain stores if the bill becomes law.

Gray has quietly and carefully handled the debate that has impassioned retailers, job seekers, religious leaders and community groups.

In his 2010 interview, he was straightforward.

“I’m not ambiguous about the fact that they need to pay competitive wages,” he said, speaking specifically about Wal-Mart. “We don’t want low-quality jobs here.”

He said the retailer should make clear that it would pay competitive wages and benefits before opening in the District.

“Frankly, they’ve been able to keep their prices low because they did it on the backs of the workers,” Gray said at the time.

“We think (stores should) start with $12 and up — and benefits associated with that,” he said on The Politics Program on WTOP.

Asked on Tuesday about those 2010 comments, Gray distanced himself from taking the hard line stance on Wal-Mart.

“I don’t remember that,” he said, noting at the time of the interview there wasn’t legislation pending.

“Remember, this is not a Wal-Mart bill,” he says. “This is a large retailer bill.”

He specifically cited Wegmans, Harris Teeter, Home Depot and Lowe’s as all being affected by his signature or veto of the bill before him.

“It affects so many potential entities and existing entities in the city,” he said.

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