Mayor Vincent Gray would sign legislation raising Washington, D.C.’s minimum wage to $10 an hour. The letter he sent Friday announcing that stance was silent on the more substantial hike to $11.50 that is expected to pass the City Council on Monday. The announcement and vote add new wrinkles to the ongoing wage fight between Gray and the Council, which came within two votes of overriding the mayor’s veto of a living wage law earlier this fall.
The District’s minimum hourly wage is $8.25, a dollar above the federal wage floor. The Council is set to vote Monday afternoon for a bump to $11.50 per hour. The bill would also peg DC’s minimum pay rates to increases in the cost of living in the future. Gray’s proposal would freeze the minimum wage for the nation’s capital at $10, rather than create an automatic adjustment to keep wages from losing their purchasing power due to inflation. Neither bill would affect the District’s minimum pay rate for tipped workers, which stands at $2.77 per hour.
Despite the substantial differences between the two proposals, Gray’s announcement is a sign of progress for workers and labor advocates. In September, Gray vetoed a bill that was even more aggressive than the one being considered Monday. That law would have set a compensation floor of $12.50 per hour for retail companies that do more than $1 billion in sales or that have more than 75,000 square feet of retail space and allowed companies to count health care and other benefits toward the hourly compensation threshold. When Walmart threatened to back out of building three stores in DC if it was signed into law, Gray squashed the bill. The council nearly voted to override Gray’s veto, but the effort came up short.
If the conflict between councilmembers and the mayor persists, the matter may end up in voters’ hands more directly, as DC Working Families is collecting signatures to put a $12.50 minimum wage referendum on the 2014 ballot.
The potential raise comes amid growing momentum for minimum wage increases around the country. Most recently, Massachusetts state Senators approved a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to $11 per hour. Election Day brought wage hikes for New Jersey and for the small Washington township that contains the Seattle-Tacoma airport. President Obama has moved from calling for a $9 minimum wage to endorsing a $10.10 minimum rate — an amount that would give the minimum wage the same buying power it had about four decades ago. Low-wage workers in the fast food and retail industries have been increasingly active, with walkouts and strikes that began in New York City last year spreading to almost 60 separate cities by Labor Day.