In an editorial yesterday on Wal-Mart's apparent decision to give up efforts to open a store on Chicago's South Side, the Tribune repeated the same old canard about the mega-retailer's purported benefits to the community and slammed the living wage movement as contributing ...
In an editorial yesterday on Wal-Mart's apparent decision to give up efforts to open a store on Chicago's South Side, the Tribune repeated the same old canard about the mega-retailer's purported benefits to the community and slammed the living wage movement as contributing to "food deserts" in the city's low-income neighborhoods:
This is all about preventing a non-union grocer from gaining a foothold in Chicago.
Remember the Big Box fight? In 2006 the City Council passed a law to force large retailers to pay a higher minimum wage and benefits than other businesses were required to pay. It was an effort to keep Wal-Mart out of Chicago. The mayor rightly vetoed the ordinance.
But the Daley administration has surrendered. It's not saying that, of course. But it doesn't want to confront labor again on this. So the Chatham Supercenter/grocery store is dead.
Wal-Mart has been allowed to open only one store in Chicago to date. That store, on North Avenue, has created 440 jobs and seeks to hire more people. Average wages for hourly employees are $12.
Here's a statement responding to the Tribune from Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative, one of the groups that led the 2006 living wage fight:
There is a crisis of poverty in urban communities of color. Those examining how to alleviate such poverty often cite lack of jobs as the primary factor. But equally devastating is that those jobs available to low-income communities of color are low-wage, no- benefit positions, with incredibly high turnover.
If Wal-Mart's average wage is indeed $12/hour, as asserted in the Tribune editorial, why such resistance to our ordinance's paltry requirement that they pay at least $10/hour by the year 2010? Perhaps because they include management salaries in that "average" figure? In that case, why don't they throw CEO Lee Scott's $29 million salary into the mix as well?
50 percent of Wal-Mart employees leave their jobs every year -- that's one of the highest turnover rates in the industry. In comparison, the profitable Costco chain offers its workers living wages and health insurance. As a result, it reports a turnover rate of about 17 percent. The fact that community residents on the South and West Sides -- most of them African-American and Latino -- organized to demand high quality jobs from billionaire mega-retailers is a testament to the powerful belief that communities demand and deserve good jobs. Jobs that they can raise families on.
To blame community and labor for demanding higher wages and benefits is like saying that civil rights marchers in the 60s should have just stayed home and kept quiet. We must address the very real need of communities on the South and West Sides having access to fresh fruits and vegetables. But we must also demand that those sources of food provide jobs and benefits that uplift workers out of poverty, not keep a foot to their throats.