Walmart seems to have found another way to spend the money it won't promise to pay future Chicago employees. Illinois State Board of Elections disclosures show that the Arkansas-based retailer shoveled
$50,000 last month into the campaign fund of GOP gubernatorial
candidate Bill Brady. The news shouldn't come as a surprise. Last
October, Brady launched his "jobs tour" at the site of the proposed
Walmart store on Chicago's South Side and has praised the company
repeatedly on the campaign trail. The ideological allies also like to promote "job growth" while obscuring their commitment to low wages.
On Wednesday, the full Chicago City Council will vote on a third proposed Walmart store. While Ald. Joe Moore (49th Ward) is pressuring the city’s legal department to come up with a brief determining whether the city can take the big box retailer to court if it doesn’t follow through
on its handshake agreement, most aldermen seem content to let Walmart
ignore its promise entirely. Barring some unforseen development, expect
a quick approval later this week.
A plan to build Chicago's third Walmart store, located in the Chatham neighborhood, passed
through the City Council's Finance Committee this afternoon, setting up a full chamber vote next week. Ald. Joe
Moore (49th Ward) was the only aldermen to vote against the new store,
citing a desire for more proof that Walmart will live up to its minimum
Will the "historic" agreement between Walmart and Chicago's labor
unions to pay entry-level workers at the store's future Chicago
locations $8.75-per-hour ever be enforced? That was the question we asked
the day the handshake deal went down in late June. One month later,
it's becoming increasingly clear that Walmart has little interest in
following through on its promise.
Check out this quote that Walmart spokesman Steve Restivo gave to the Reader's
Hunter Clauss. After pointing out that the deal is not legally-binding,
Restivo said "all I can say is that we will offer a competitive wage."
With Mayor Daley badgering aldermen to approve a third store by Wednesday of next week, this one in Chatham on the city's South Side, the supposed watchdogs
in the council chambers need to come up with a plan quickly to hold the
retailer accountable. Otherwise, it's anyone's guess what the workers
will take home.
During Wednesday's Chicago City Council meeting, almost every alderman expressed "reluctant" support for Walmart's plan to build a second store on the South Side. While backing the ordinance in question, many of the speakers also lamented the low wages paid by the mega-retailer and the stores' affect on local businesses. Almost entirely absent from the discussion, however, was the strong possibility that the new Walmart developments in Chicago will be partially subsidized by taxpayer dollars. The one exception came from a somewhat unlikely source: 50th Ward Ald. Bernie Stone, who gave an impassioned (if not particularly eloquent) plea in favor of a proposed ordinance that would require companies receiving financial assistance from the city to pay their workers a living wage. "If you take our money," he said, "you're eventually going to have to pay a living wage." Watch it:
In his indispensable new Reader interview, labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein noted that there are "hundreds and hundreds of examples" of Walmart using tax increment financing (TIF) and other forms of local public subsidies to gain further financial advantage. Aldermen should be prepared for them to do the same here in Chicago.
Who will ensure Walmart holds up its end of last week's tenuous agreement
that apparently cleared the way for a second Chicago store? Ald. Howard
Brookins Jr. (21st Ward), an ardent supporter of Walmart's proposed Chicago expansion, says that the City Council will be on the case. "They
need to live up to what they agreed to," he said during an
appearance on WLS' NewsViews broadcast yesterday. " And if they don't, then all of
us [aldermen] -- and I think all 50 of us -- will step in and try to do something
to resolve those issues." Watch it (full video available here):
The full council is expected to vote on the Pullman development project this Wednesday and, when they do, the public deserves to hear aldermen's specific plans for
holding the retailer accountable. After all, the deal is not
legally-binding, Walmart isn't acknowledging that they made any wage concessions, and the mega-retailer has historically been
very secretive about its wage data in the past.
Yesterday's announcement of an agreement between Walmart and Chicago's major unions would have been a lot more reassuring if a representative from the mega-retailer had stood with the labor leaders and joined them in calling it a "historic" moment. Instead we get headlines like this from Bloomberg: "Wal-Mart, Chicago Unions Can't Agree If They Have An Agreement." From the article:
This is the “first time that the largest retailer in
the world had seen fit to offer 50 cents more than minimum wage as
starting pay,” said Alderman Ed Burke, waving a printout of an e-mail
from Maggie Sans, vice president of public affairs for the Bentonville,
Arkansas-based retailer, during a meeting of the city council’s zoning
Yet Steven Restivo, a Wal-Mart spokesman, later said
there was no such agreement and that the e-mail from Sans simply
clarified the company’s existing policies on raises.
It just goes to show that the Chicago labor community is going to have to keep the pressure on them as the new developments move forward.
Today, Chicago labor leaders gave their blessing to a proposed Walmart store on the South Side after the mega-retailer agreed to pay second-year workers about $1 over Illinois' minimum wage. But considering that the multi-billion company is notoriously secretive with its wage data, the challenge is to make sure they actually follow through.