Chicago City Council approves 'big-box' ordinance

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Chicago City Council approved the so-called "big-box" ordinance. The new law will require large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target to pay workers more than the minimum wage. Mayor Daley strongly opposed plan.

Two things you don't see too often on the floor of the Chicago City Council: passionate debate and dissent. Both were present Wednesday.

In the short-term, 10,000 workers may get a raise. In the long-term, there are concerns that fewer stores will open here, and that could result in fewer jobs.

The big box battle ended with a bruising defeat for Mayor Daley.

The Chicago City Council approved this plan by a 35 to 14 vote making Chicago the biggest city in the country to require big box retailers to pay living wage. Because of the wide margin of the vote this ordinance is veto proof.

"I'd lose a lot of real estate tax money, sales tax money and jobs, it's as simple as that," said Daley.

The Mayor fears the vote by alderman Wednesday will result in big-name retailers like Target and Wal-Mart shelving their plans for future construction in Chicago.

"It's the welfare of the city. I can see both sides of the issue. I see both sides. Some people hate Wal-Mart, but this is not about Wal-Mart," Daley said.

It's about forcing the nation's biggest retailers to pay their employees in Chicago at least $10 an hour in wages, plus $3 in benefits.

"We cannot create a law just for two people. That's how you see the manipulation here. I think if the ordinance had been for all people, we should make it for everybody, that would be different," said Ald. Dorothy Tillman, 3rd Ward.

Most of the 14 aldermen who voted against the ordinance say they favor a higher minimum wage -- but they believe it must be applied to all workers. Other alderman said they felt bullied by unions who they believe were out to settle a score with Wal-Mart.

"When Home Depot came, I heard nothing. But when one store came to an area on the West Side of Chicago, when that one store came, here comes the unions and all of these  'Oh, we got to have a big-box ordinance,' " said Ald. Isaac Carothers, 29th Ward.

Wal-Mart says its first and only store in the city -- set to open in September -- may be its last as a result of this vote. Top retailers are now eyeing a lawsuit to get the living wage ordinance thrown out.

"We're going to have to work to tear down the sign that these alderman just put up that says 'Chicago is closed for business,' " said Gerald Roper, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

Several aldermen say there was an underlying threat from union bosses to run candidates against any alderman who did not line up behind the living wage ordinance. That's a sign that sharks smell blood in the water and Mayor Daley's political power has been seriously weakened by scandal. Because this living wage ordinance may get thrown out in court, the political implications may be just as significant in the long run.

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