If Washington, D.C. is to be livable for all its residents, we and the District government need to take a stand to support living wages.

The Large Retailer Accountability Act, which passed through the D.C. Council with an 8-5 vote July 26, would guarantee a living wage to thousands of people working in the District. But retailers whose parent companies gross more than $1 billion per year and occupy more than 75,000 feet of retail space — namely, Walmart — are fighting back against the act, which would require them to pay all employees at least $12.50 an hour, minus benefits.

Walmart has threatened to pull out of three of its planned locations in the District if Mayor Gray signs the LRAA into law. It is clear that Walmart intends to continue to pursue an exploitative business model that is based on poverty wages and the mistreatment of workers. The residents of D.C. deserve better than the conditions Walmart is offering.

The income gap in D.C. is currently the third highest in the nation, with minimum-wage workers earning $8.25 an hour, or $17,160 a year for a full-time employee. Under the LRAA, full-time workers would earn $26,000 a year — enough to cover the basic costs of food, clothing, housing and healthcare. The current minimum wage creates a cycle of poverty where even full-time workers struggle to make a living, then transferring the burden of paying for necessities to the taxpayer through welfare and food stamps.

Walmart claims it cannot afford to pay workers a living wage, despite its $469 billion in revenue and previous promises to pay workers $13 an hour. A recent article from the Huffington Post highlighted a 2011 study that showed that transferring the entire cost of a living wage onto the consumer would increase the average Walmart shopper’s grocery bill by only 46 cents per trip, or $12.50 per year. Furthermore, the company has ignored the success of similar businesses, like Costco, which pays its employees an average hourly wage of $20.89 and has very low employee turnover.

It’s not a question of whether or not companies like Walmart can afford to pay a living wage, but whether or not they will. Walmart and other large retailers have made it clear that they do not find working class people or D.C. residents worthy of a living wage. In response, we must support theLRAA and make it clear that if you intend to do business in the District of Columbia, you must treat its citizens with dignity and respect.

To break the cycle of D.C.’s systemic poverty and support better lives for retail workers, we must urge Mayor Gray to sign the LRAA and stand with the eight councilmembers who voted to support living wages for D.C. workers. If you wish to ask the mayor to sign the LRAA and support living wages and working families in D.C., you can call his office at 202-727-6300 or email the mayor at eom@dc.gov.

Erin Riordan (COL ’15) is a member of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee and an intern with D.C. Jobs With Justice.

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