Friday, April 30, 2010

Wal-Mart's Ill Windy City

The Chicago Sun Times is reporting on the efforts by Wal-Mart to open a second store in Chicago-and the battle is getting tense as Chicago pols are working hard to get another big box living wage bill passed; the first bill was vetoed by Mayor Daley. And it appears that the Walmonster might be getting off of its high horse: "Wal-Mart has agreed to hold an unprecedented face-to-face meeting with organized labor in a last-ditch attempt to break the stalemate that has stalled its planned Chicago expansion, City Hall sources said Wednesday. The world's largest retailer has repeatedly insisted that it would not negotiate wages and that it would only agree to pay a "living wage" if the mandate applied to all Chicago retailers."

Perhaps they are bending, but not everyone is convinced: "Wal-Mart is not likely to change that tune during the upcoming meeting with Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon, Secretary-Treasurer Jorge Ramirez and Ron Powell, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 881. But the company just might sign a "community benefits agreement" that guarantees that as many as five new Chicago stores would be 100 percent built by organized labor and that neighborhood residents would be hired to work in those stores."

Sure it will-but what about the retail work force? The other issues are really no brainers. And as far as the historic meeting is concerned-well, not so fast: "Ramirez said the meeting with Wal-Mart was originally scheduled for today, only to be called off. Wal-Mart has yet to reschedule. "It's one thing to say you're gonna do it. It's another to have a date," he said. Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo said company officials "have not made any commitment to meet." Other sources insisted that a meeting would take place before Wednesday's zoning meeting, in part because Mayor Daley has demanded it."

THe UFCW's Ramirez remains quite skeptical-and points to the Wal-Mart class action suit as a sign that caution is necessary: "Ramirez noted that Wal-Mart has been bombarding the airwaves with commercials in recent days boasting about how well its employees are treated. "If they do all this great stuff, sit down and put it in writing. You haven't exactly lived up to the letter of the law in other places," Ramirez said. "They've got the largest class-action lawsuit in American history for systematically paying women less than they pay men for doing the exact same thing. The [alarm] bells should be going off at City Hall saying, 'We don't want to bring in predatory employers.' I don't hear a commercial saying that."

And all of this is taking place as the Chicago city council continues to debate a living wage bill for the city: "In 2004, a bitterly divided City Council gave Wal-Mart zoning approval to build its first Chicago store in Austin -- and handed the retailer a one-vote defeat in Chatham. The controversy gave birth to the big-box minimum-wage ordinance aborted by Daley's 2006 veto. Organized labor subsequently spent millions to elect a more union-friendly City Council. Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (6th) recently introduced a new version that would require Wal-Mart and other retailers with more than 50 employees that benefit "directly or indirectly" from city subsidies to pay a "living wage" of at least $11.03 an hour."

So the lesson here is that Wal-Mart, having reached its penetration limits in rural and suburban areas, is now dead set on getting into cities like Chicago and New York-and it will say anything in order to get a foothold. So, the rumored Gateway expansion site in Brooklyn needs to be taken very seriously-we know that Wal-Mart is doing just that.