It was a chaotic scene recently at the Wilson Building – but it was symbolic of our city’s general discontent. For the first time in my more than 11 years as head of the DC Chamber of Commerce, I felt physically unsafe in a venue where key decisions are made annually. I was shocked, dismayed and, more importantly, very disappointed.
There was tremendous anger, hostility and animosity after the DC Council voted 7-6 on the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA) of 2013, therefore upholding the mayor’s veto of the bill. As those in support of LRAA rushed the dais and filed out of the DC Council chambers yelling and pointing at those who voted “No” to the override, I could not help but think of the disconnect between our residents and the perception of good business decisions versus those that hurt our spirit and shake us to our very core.
The LRAA – simply put – is a misguided and irresponsible bill that would have forced larger retailers to pay a minimum of $12.50 an hour to employees while other businesses would still only pay $8.25 and surrounding jurisdictions pay $7.25. This bill would have cost our city hundreds of jobs, deterred some businesses from locating here and continued the retail leakage to Maryland and Virginia that has plagued us for years.
Big bills and legislation like LRAA will come and go, but there is a larger issue that overshadows any DC Council meeting or agenda item: the friction between business, government, unions and residents. Emotions were high even before last Tuesday’s Council meeting – all sides bickering through the media and to each other – but it all seemed to boil over once the vote took place and the override was defeated.
Ultimately, we all want what’s best for the city, we just have different ways of going about it. But despite these differences, it is in all of our best interests to see beyond today and create a vision for tomorrow. That is the only way we can establish sustainable economic growth for future generations. We cannot get bogged down in the finger-pointing and insults that I saw throughout much of the LRAA process.
Collaboration is the key to continuing the success of the District’s economy and sustaining it for generations. The DC Chamber looks forward to working with the Mayor, DC Council, unions, residents and the entire business community to increase employment and create a business-friendly city for employers. We remain committed to strengthening the District’s workforce and employment opportunities and ensuring our city remains open for business.
There is too much at stake to do anything less!
Barbara B. Lang
President and CEO
DC Chamber of Commerce