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US: Wal-Mart Likes Chicago, But Not City's Wage Plan

by Gary WashburnChicago Tribune
June 13th, 2006

A Wal-Mart official said Monday that his firm could be interested in building "10 or 20" stores on city sites during the next five years, but he added that passage of a minimum wage measure by Chicago's City Council could have a chilling effect on the company's plans.

"First things first," said John Bisio, Midwest director of community affairs for the giant retailer. "We have to figure out if this lopsided, unconstitutional, unfair ordinance is going to be adopted, and then we will go from there."

Under two "big-box" proposals pending before the council, operators of large stores in the city would be required to pay their employees a minimum of about $10 per hour in wages and another $3 in fringe benefits.

"There is a tremendous amount of opportunity that can be lost, not just by Wal-Mart but by other businesses that would be affected by this," Bisio said. "If you were a businessman, why would you want to continue to invest millions and millions of dollars ... and subject your business [to a requirement] that applies to some, but not all? It is an unfair ordinance.

"If you want to raise it for all businesses, if you want to do it to all retailers, then you might have something," he continued. "But not like this."

After winning a zoning battle with the help of Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), Wal-Mart is nearing completion of its first Chicago store, which is in Mitts' West Side ward. Plans for a South Side store were thwarted in 2004 by aldermen who contended that the company exploits its workers by failing to pay a living wage.

Younger and inexperienced employees start at about $7.25 per hour, but the average pay of workers is about $11, Bisio said Monday.

"When you look at the fact that Chicago residents continue to spend more than half a billion dollars at our Wal-Mart stores in the suburbs, just outside the city, our homework keeps telling us there is a tremendous opportunity to do a better job taking care of Chicago residents," said Bisio, who attended the ribbon-cutting of a new Chicago library in the same area as the company's West Side store.

Passage of a big-box ordinance in its present form, however, would "put the brakes" on the plans for as many as 20 new city stores in the next few years, he said.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), who supports the big-box ordinance, said that passage would not change Wal-Mart's plans.

"We won't lose them," he said. "Wal-Mart wants to come into Chicago because they see the market. They see how much is being spent in Chicago proper. They want to be here. They just have to pay a living wage."





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