September 20, 2017 1:15PM

Business in Revolt, D.C. Might Pause in Adding New Employer Burdens

Peter Jamison, Washington Post

For several years, the nation’s capital has joined other left-leaning cities and states in pushing legislation to improve the plight of the working poor.

Now, facing growing unrest from business owners and internal division over their priorities, D.C. lawmakers are preparing to take a break from further beefing up labor standards.

The retreat, coming after a year in which the District adopted a plan to increase its minimum hourly wage to $15 and enacted a law guaranteeing private-sector workers some of the nation’s most generous family- and medical-leave benefits, is an abrupt shift for a city whose leaders have been in the vanguard of the national campaign for workers’ rights.

In particular, this may mean shelving the next priority on the agenda of the unions and their allied liberal groups, namely a law dictating methods by which employers may schedule workers, following a Seattle model (and editorially opposed by the Washington Post here). 

If the council chair gets his way, employers can look forward to fifteen whole months of not having new legal cinder blocks deposited on their backs: 

“Businesses like certainty, and if we’re constantly changing the tax burden or the tax environments, or constantly changing the regulatory burden, then it becomes more difficult to do business in the District,” said D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who has proposed a moratorium through the end of 2018 on bills that would negatively affect businesses.

There is little here to surprise libertarians. Coercive employment legislation harms local economies as it does national, and gains no added rationality from being sentiment-based (the $15 number was selected because it made for easier organizing.) While D.C., like Seattle and San Francisco, has the slack to absorb large-scale folly thanks to its role in hosting a booming sector of today's economy, it is not entirely immune from nearby competition, a few miles away in Virginia and Maryland.

What must worry unions is that the District's retrenchment could break the momentum among what one analyst calls its "peer group of fairly progressive cities" and states to outdo each other in enacting laws regimenting employment relations and banning various workplace arrangements that are voluntary and desired by both sides. 

Let's hope it does break that momentum. Washington loves to picture itself as the civic peer of that other capital of broad boulevards, Paris. And as it happens, the French themselves have finally been figuring out that dirigisme in the workplace leads to no good place. D.C. should back off too.