''Big Box'' vote set for Chicago council
July 24, 2006 (Last Updated 12:20:18 PM) (WLS) -- The fight is heating up over a proposed city ordinance that would make giant retailers in Chicago pay their employees more.
The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce led a coalition of more than 30 business leaders Monday in condemning the proposal. They say it will chase much-needed jobs out of Chicago and keep giant retailers like Wal-Mart from opening more stores here.
The Chicago City Council will vote on a controversial ordinance Wednesday that could affect where thousands of Chicagoans shop. The "big box ordinance" would require retailers, with stores larger than 90,000 square feet to pay a higher minimum wage and benefits than any other Chicago employers would have to. There have been reports that some companies like Target would leave the city to avoid the ordinance.
It's a war of words over the dollars and cents of the big box ordinance -- a proposal requiring Chicago's largest retailers like Target and Home Depot to set wage and benefit levels.
"I feel bad when young people are standing on the corner and they want to work but they can get a job. They can't catch a break so we have to be able to help them. That's what they elect us to do," said 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts.
Mitts is one of a reported minority of the 50-member Chicago city council believed not to be in support of the measure. The ordinance is also supported by the United Food and Commerical Workers union that represents supermarket employees.
The big box law would require retailers with 90-thousand or more square feet of space to pay workers a wage of at least $10 an hour and $3 in benefits. Opponents say if pay and benefit levels are imposed, mega retailers would stop coming to Chicago. It's feared some retailers already here may leave.
"It represents the people in our community who can ill afford to pay high prices and go out to the suburbs to shop," said 21st Ward Alderman Howard Brookins.
"We know in Santa Fe that where Wal-Mart has to pay a minimum of $9 an hour that they not only stayed in that city, but they are expanding in that city," said Denise Dixon of Acorn.
A coalition of black ministers took out a full-page ad Sunday in the Chicago Tribune against the ordinance-- with the support of the Wal-Mart corporation.
On Chicago's northwest side, where this Wal-Mart is currently under construction, most welcome their new neighbor.
The big box ordinance comes up for a vote in the city council on Wednesday. Alderman are being pulled in one direction by unions and in the other by community groups. surely caught in the middle are people who just want a job.
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