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Daley's Wal-Mart Drama Continues

By Kevin Robinson in News on Jun 23, 2010 3:20PM

Photo by Kate Gardiner
The drumbeat of "news" around Wal-Mart's entry into Chicago's retail market continued yesterday, as the local media continued to print Wal-Mart's press release promising jobs city-wide and wages that start at 50 cents above the minimum wage. And Mayor Daley demanded answers from labor leaders in Chicago for their opposition to the mega-retailer's urban expansion. “They’re up to the highest point that no other retailer pays at the beginning salary. And they don’t pay that in the suburban area. No other retailer has gone that far,” Daley said, before launching into a tirade that Fran Spielman noted hinted at playing the race card, as the mayor did four years ago when he vetoed the so-called big-box ordinance.

“Why is it only in the African-American and Hispanic [neighborhoods of Chicago] that you cannot build a Wal-Mart? We built one on the West Side and no one complains about it. Those people who work there don’t complain. Those ex-offenders don’t complain. ... That’s sales tax for us [for] public transportation, schools and parks,” he said. “If it’s built in a suburb, there’s not one controversy. Not one controversy dealing with the development. And why is it now there’s a controversy? It’s in the African-American community. You ask me.”

The funny thing about all of this is that I'm not sure Daley realizes that the labor movement in Chicago has done what nobody else in North America has been able to do: force Wal-Mart to negotiate a wage agreement on behalf of their employees with a labor union. Wal-Mart's animosity toward unions is legendary; when other Wal-Mart workers have organized unions, the company has either fired everyone or closed the store. So if one of the richest companies in the world is willing to agree to a starting wage 50 cents higher than the minimum wage as it's first offer, and a group of union leaders who routinely negotiate wage and benefit agreements with tough employers think they can get a better deal for the workers, it stands to reason that they're correct. After all, Wal-Mart has spent buckets of money and years of time trying to crack Chicago. They're not likely to walk away now.

Which leaves me questioning the mayor's skill as someone that can negotiate an agreement on behalf of his constituency. If his reaction at the first proposal is to jump up and start yelling that this is the best deal possible, given the history of this, he either doesn't care about working people in Chicago (such as the thousands of unionized retail workers in Chicago, and the potential employees at Daley's Wal-Marts), or he's too stupid to know how to get a good deal from a company that wants to do business in Chicago. In the end, nobody knows what will happen on Thursday. But if Mayor Daley's public tantrums in the media, and his history of freaking out when he isn't getting his way are any indication, it will be a close vote on Thursday, if not a tie.