Interviews

Marion Barry: Wal-Mart held us hostage

D.C. council member talks voting on 'living wage' bill

 

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," July 11, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

ERIC BOLLING, GUEST HOST: And this just in: Wal-Mart is out, the big retailer giving the nation's capital the big heave-ho after the D.C. Council gave them an order. Hike your minimum wage more than four bucks an hour, hike it more than four, and hike it fast. Wal-Mart responding, how about we just take a hike? And now.

Wal-Mart said if D.C. council members voted to force big retailers to up their minimum wage to $12.50 an hour, they would have to up and leave, and that would be too costly. Apparently, it wasn't just a threat, because now Wal-Mart says it's ditching D.C. expansion plans in their tracks, halting construction of three stores in the works and rethinking three other stores.

Now, it's still possible D.C.'s mayor could put the kibosh on all this country vetoing the council's measure, but it might already be too late. Council members who had wanted the big box stores to pay up might just have put themselves in an even bigger box.

But D.C. Councilman and former Mayor Marion Barry doesn't see it that way at all. He said he voted a loud yes on the living wage bill.

Welcome, Mayor.

So, tell us about it. What makes you think $12.50 an hour for Wal-Mart is going to, I don't know, solve the D.C. employment problems?

MARION BARRY, D-WASHINGTON, D.C., COUNCIL MEMBER: First of all, let me put this in context, Eric.

For a long time, these big box weren't interested in urban markets. They were interested in the suburban and rural argument. Two, in terms of myself, I have been a strong advocate of labor. I was -- 16 years as mayor, I only had nothing but labor peace. And so the labor movement in Washington is a lot different than those in the suburbs or those in small rural areas.

And, secondly, in terms of urban markets, jobs are the number one issue.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLLING: Well, let's stop you right there. Let's stop you right there the jobs. I'm glad you brought up jobs.

The jobs created by constructing at least three, maybe up to six Wal-Marts, some of them superstores, are in the thousands, Mayor. The jobs -- the permanent employees of these three, maybe six stores could be upwards of 4,000 jobs.

We're talking major economic development for the D.C. area that, frankly, needs it, sir. Why would you vote to stop that?

BARRY: No. First of all, the minimum wage in Washington is $8.25.

BOLLING: Yes, sir.

BARRY: A dollar above the federal wage.

BOLLING: Yes.

BARRY: And, two, we have a very high unemployment rate here.

BOLLING: Yes.

BARRY: And we said to Wal-Mart, as we negotiated in the bill, $12.50 is a living wage to anybody.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLLING: All right, but, Mayor, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. But I got to stop you, sir.

(CROSSTALK)

BARRY: Wait a minute.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLLING: You're telling me -- you're telling me that the million wage in D.C. is higher than the national average and your unemployment rate is higher then the national average, but you're telling me now raise that minimum for Wal-Mart specifically, raise it even more.

Do you not see the tie-in between higher minimum wages and lower jobs?

BARRY: First of all, first of all, multiply $8.25 by the numbers which you get, something that is less than $20,000. If you take the minimum -- living wage, which I support very strongly, it's $26,000. In Washington, you can't hardly live on $40,000 a family.

And the last thing which really tipped the point, I met with the Wal-Mart people on Tuesday. And we came in, and we got some news for you guys. What's the news? Well, we're going to continue with those three stores that we got.

BOLLING: Sir, sir.

BARRY: But we're not going to continue with the other three.

Wait a minute.

BOLLING: Sir, but you -- but we have new -- we spoke with those -- we can we put up the screen? We have a Wal-Mart spokesman saying that they're going to rethink the three jobs that they're already -- we're -- "We will likely not pursue Skyland, Capitol Gateway and New York Avenue, and will start to review the financial and legal implications of the three stores already under construction."

Sir, that could be six Wal-Mart stores. That could be thousands of jobs. That could be billions of dollars in revenue.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLLING: ... and tens of millions in taxes that you're saying goodbye to.

(CROSSTALK)

BARRY: You don't get a job at any price. We don't get a job at any price.

What really tipped me over the edge was the fact that Wal-Mart was sticking us up, trying to say, if you don't do this, we're going to do that. We're going to leave here.

Suppose we did all legislation like that? People come in and stick you up, unarmed. We're going to win this fight.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLLING: Mayor, Mayor, you voted to raise the minimum wage for specifically big box retailers, not for union shops, not for union shops.

Sir, I got to ask you. You were censured today. You were fined today for some things that, frankly, I would say you probably should be thrown off the city council for. You want to talk about that for a minute?

BARRY: I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about Wal-Mart and the fact they have held us hostage. We're not going to take it. And if they want to leave...

(CROSSTALK)

BOLLING: Yes, but, sir, all due respect, all due respect, you lose a lot of credibility with our viewers when on one hand, you're being censured and fined for taking some money...

(CROSSTALK)

BOLLING: ... that you shouldn't have been taking, yet you will vote against -- you will vote against bringing thousands of jobs to the city, to Washington, D.C., which frankly needs it.

You know what the unemployment rate for teens in D.C. is? It's above 30 percent, sir.

BARRY: That's right, like it is all over urban America.

I may lose credibility with you and your viewers, but I have gained credibility. I mean, I was mayor for 16 years, another mayor for four years, and I have been in this business since 31 years, trying to bring dignity and justice...

(CROSSTALK)

BOLLING: Mayor, answer this question.

BARRY: Yes, sir.

BOLLING: How do you answer the question where Wal-Mart is going to -- if the mayor, the current mayor doesn't veto this legislation, Wal-Mart will be required to pay minimum wage of $12.50 an hour, yet a grocery store, big grocery store, that competes with Wal-Mart for groceries that's unionized doesn't have the same law applied to them. They can still go at $8.25 like the rest of the city.

BARRY: No, they cannot go $8.25. They cannot go $8.25. If you take the unionized stores of Giant and Safeway, their wages are far above $12.50. They could not get away with that...

(CROSSTALK)

BOLLING: But whether they pay it or not, the requirement, the law is for Wal-Mart, big box retailers like Wal-Mart to go to $12.50.

BARRY: We got that. We got that.

BOLLING: That same rule doesn't apply to union shops.

(CROSSTALK)

BARRY: No, it does not. It does (ph)apply.

In retail shops, collective bargaining has taken the wage up beyond $12.50. And, secondly, we had eight votes. And we're going to urge the mayor to sign this. If he doesn't sign it, we will get another vote and we will override it.

BOLLING: All right.

BARRY: And what I don't like is being stuck up...

BOLLING: All right.

BARRY: ... and held hostage, bullied, pushed around.

BARRY: Mayor, Mayor, Mayor, we're going to have to leave it there.

That's Mayor Marion -- former Mayor Marion Barry, current Washington, D.C., council member, voted for the Wal-Mart living wage law.

Thank you very much, sir.

BARRY: Thank you very much.

BOLLING: All right.

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