National Consumers League

A DC resident's letter to Mayor Gray about the LRAA

The Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA) was vetoed by DC Mayor Vincent Gray and then the veto was sustained by the DC City Council earlier this month. This was a defeat for DC's low wage workers and a missed opportunity for Washington to set an example for the rest of the country that workers deserve a living wage.

This is a compelling letter from Daniel Solomon, a DC resident, to the Mayor urging him to sign the LRAA in the days leading up to his decision. Dear Mayor Gray, I have been following the progress of the Large Retailer Accountability Act since it first attracted public attention last year.  I find the arguments of its proponents compelling and the arguments of its opponents weak at best.  I urge you to act on your best instincts and sign the bill.

My grandfather, N. M. Cohen, founded Giant Food in Washington, DC in 1936.  From the beginning, he regarded his workers as his most important asset.  He would say, “This company is built on three things: people, people, people.” He paid his people well.  He dealt fairly with the union that represented them, even ordering coffee for strikers in the rare instance when his workers went on strike in winter.  He built Giant on the shoulders of his workers, not on their backs. 

He made a lot of money as a high-road employer.  He plowed that money back into the community in a variety of ways, not the least of which is through the Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation, which continues to give back to the District of Columbia. N. M. would be appalled to watch WalMart's hijinks.  Threatening to leave D.C. or cut back on its planned investments here if we don't keep their workers' wages down.  Using the needs of our poorest communities as leverage, rather than as a reason to build new stores and pay workers living wages. 

Refusing to testify publicly on the Large Retailer Accountability Act, but seeking to kill the legislation  behind the scenes through highly-paid lobbyists and using other businesses and business associations as its surrogates.  Pursuing a low road to growth rather than the high road pursued by Giant Food and such other companies as Costco and Trader Joe's and Quick Chek. Your campaign theme of One City meant a great deal to me, both as a member of the Giant family and as a prosperous resident on the prosperous side of town. 

I believe DC will be One City and a thriving city only when the least fortunate residents have good jobs, excellent schools and the opportunities now available almost exclusively to those West of the River.  Good jobs are not retail jobs at or near minimum wages.  Those jobs will only perpetuate poverty.  Of course, not every retailer can afford to provide living wage jobs.  Those that can should.  Surely big box retailers whose parent companies earn $1 billion or more a year can afford far more than many of them choose to provide. You and some of the Council opponents of LRAA say that the residents of Ward 7 want the jobs WalMart may bring, no matter what they pay.  Elissa Silverman of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute has found otherwise. 

Here is a link to her article: Your Administration has done much to raise the prospects and hopes of those East of the River.  I urge you to harness the wealth of the large retailers who want to do business here to provide the next boost. Please sign the LRAA. Sincerely, Daniel Solomon