Demand that Large Retailers Pay a Living Wage
Tomorrow morning, EJC Advocacy Manager Ari Weisbard will be testifying on the Large Retailer Accountability Act of 2013 before the D.C. Council Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs. This important legislation would raise wage standards for employees of large retailer big box stores like Walmart and Home Depot. Help support the passage by joining us at the Wilson Building tomorrow morning or emailing your Councilmember today.
Ari’s Written Testimony:
Committee Chair Orange and members of the Committee, thank you very much for the opportunity to testify in favor of the Large Retailer Accountability Act of 2013. My name is Ari Weisbard and I am Advocacy Manager at the D.C. Employment Justice Center. EJC is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to secure, protect and promote workplace justice in the D.C. metropolitan area. We provide free legal advice to more than 1,200 low-income workers a year at our weekly legal clinic and work with D.C. government to identify areas where the District laws and enforcement can be improved.
Ultimately, this bill is about what kind of jobs we want to create for DC residents. Do we want businesses to take the high road and create good, living wage jobs that empower residents to support themselves and their families? Or do we want a system where corporations race to the bottom and pay as little as they can get away with, leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab? Ultimately, encouraging businesses to take the high road creates more jobs and broader economic prosperity throughout the District.
We see hundreds of workers at our weekly legal clinic who earn DC’s minimum wage of $8.25 an hour. This wage works out to $330 a week for a full-time employee, which just barely covers rent for a two-bedroom apartment in D.C. So, in order to pay for groceries, clothing, health care, or any other necessities, our clients usually work two or three jobs and receive various forms of public assistance. In effect, employers who pay these poverty level wages rely on taxpayers to subsidize their businesses.
DC’s living wage, which the legislation should reflect is now $12.50 an hour due to inflation, isn’t a panacea, but it’s a lot better. Every worker the DC Council can help get a living wage job means more money spent in that worker’s local community. Living wage jobs also mean less of a need to rely on public support. Most importantly, a living wage enables workers to see their children a few more hours a week, which is probably more important to bringing up the next generation than anything else we can do for youths. Higher wages also allow workers to save up for a rainy day, helping them to avoid homelessness or malnutrition if they face layoffs or other employment problems, which we see a lot of in EJC’s legal clinic.
Low-road employers have a tried and true formula for responding to any new idea that might increase workers’ wages or better protect their rights. They borrow talking points from Congressional Republicans and call these ideas “job killers.” But the truth is, poverty-wage employers cost a region more jobs than the jobs they create because they drive good employers out of business. And the quality of the new jobs is usually much lower than the jobs they replaced.
Minimum wage standards, on the other hand, make our economy stronger because they ensure that more of the money from retail sales in District is reinvested here in the District. Instead of going to big corporate shareholders who live out of state, the dollars workers earn are usually spent locally, creating a virtuous cycle of job creation, instead of a giant vacuum.
Study after study has showed that increasing the minimum wage does not cost jobs. The case is even stronger with this law, which is carefully tailored to apply only to the retail employers who can most afford it. Just as the District requires that larger businesses provide a higher number of paid sick days than smaller businesses, it is perfectly appropriate to require large retailers to pay a higher minimum wage.
For District residents, District businesses, and the District economy, the Large Retailer Accountability Act is the right thing to do. Please pass it. Thank you very much for the opportunity to provide you with this testimony.