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Wal-Mart Deal Stalled in Council, Again

By Kevin Robinson in News on Jan 12, 2010 3:00PM


14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke, Chair of the city's Finance Committee, is no closer to a deal on the proposed Wal-Mart on Chicago's South side (and a future deal on Wal-Marts on the city's 9th, 12th, 20th and 34th Wards as well). The deal hinged on a proposal to impose a so-called "living wage" of at least $11.03-an-hour on employees that work for retailers that benfit “directly or indirectly” from city subsidies. The store in Chatham would be exempt from the deal, since the the redevelopment agreement that would allow that store has already happened.

Neither aldermen, city retailers or union could agree on the wage, leading to the demise of the proposal before it even came before the committee. "We'll let them digest this and chew on it a little bit and see if we can come to some kind of agreement," Burke said. Wal-Mart spokesman John Bisio said in a statement that such an ordinance "is the wrong direction for a city that desperately needs jobs and economic growth." Agreement or not, any action by the City Council that allows retailers to set up shop in Chicago with city-mandated wages will be a tremendous loss for the local labor movement. As unions of retail workers try to find a way to protect the gains they've won while building a movement of retail workers, negotiating wages through the city council appears to be a way to hold on to wages and benefits that were fought for and won over the years. And in the face of an encroaching mega-retailer notorious for driving down wages and busting unions, anything short of a full-scale, successful organizing drive will leave unions like the UFCW in the unfortunate position of relinquishing their moral authority as the voice of working families in the retail industry, instead becoming just another special interest lobbying government. And that's not a real labor movement.