It’s been a roller-coaster year for advocates of a higher minimum wage in the District. In June, the D.C. Council passed
the Large Retailer Accountability Act, which would have required stores with more than 75,000 square feet and parent companies that gross at least $1 billion per year to pay a “living wage” of $12.50 an hour to their employees. In September, Mayor Vince Gray vetoed it
. In anticipation of and immediately following the veto, several members of the D.C. Council presented alternative minimum-wage bills, and earlier this week, the Council unanimously passed
legislation to raise the minimum wage gradually from $8.25 to $11.50 by 2016. Although Gray was pushing
a $10 minimum wage that wouldn’t increase with inflation, as the Council-backed one does, he says he’ll sign the bill.
So the question is: Was this a half-win salvaged from an earlier defeat, or was it an even bigger victory for workers’ advocates than the living wage bill would have been? Comparing an immediate $12.50 minimum to an eventual $11.50 would seem to indicate the former. But a look at the number of workers affected makes a strong case that the successful bill is in fact a far better outcome for labor activists.
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Yes, $12.50 is more than $11.50. But 40,000 higher-paid residents is a whole lot more than 3,000. On the whole, it seems, the failure of the living wage bill and the success of the across-the-board minimum wage hike is good news for D.C.’s low-paid workers.