Residents rally in support of Walmart deal

June 23, 2010 6:30:05 AM PDT
Demonstrators blew their vuvuzelas at a Walmart rally in Daley Plaza Tuesday in the Loop.

The group is putting pressure on a city council committee that is considering a plan that would allow Walmart to build a second store in the city. Walmart's expansion plans also received a boost from Mayor Richard Daley Tuesday.

With a relentless recession causing persistent unemployment in the city, the forces opposing Walmart's expansion in Chicago appear to be softening. Not only has Mayor Daley taken a lead role in opening more stores here, the company has an all out public relations effort under way.

The Walmart-supplied vuvuzelas made the demonstration sound at times like a World Cup match. The marchers -- who said they were not paid by the company -- dressed in Walmart-supplied t-shirts. They were mostly African-American teenagers from Chicago's South and West sides.

"Walmart gave us the opportunity to come out here and mobilize for them to try to get this Walmart in our community," said Ariel Austin, Pro-Walmart demonstrator.

"All we want is jobs. If Walmart comes to our community and gives us jobs, we will greatly appreciate that," said Treasure Johnson, Pro Walmart demonstrator.

The demonstration follows Monday's announcement by the world's largest retailer that if allowed to open dozens of new stores in the city of Chicago, beyond the one it already operates, it will pay its city workforce $8.75. That's 50 cents more than minimum wage.

But Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez says Walmart has made a profit during the recession and could pay closer to what unions consider a living wage.

"They're in a position, more so than their competitors even, to pay a higher rate and if they want to lead the retail sector in many different areas then this should be an area that they should be willing to lead in," said Ramirez.

"Why is it in Evergreen Park, in Cicero all the suburban areas. Why is it okay there but not okay here," said Daley.

Mayor Daley, who wants dozens of new Walmarts and the estimated 12,000 jobs they will create in Chicago, again demanded the unions explain why they have not opposed the company's expansion in predominantly white suburban areas.

"Why is it only that in the African-American and Hispanic community you cannot build a Walmart?" said Daley.

ABC7 has learned that Walmart has tendered a contract to the Building Trades Council for union labor to build as many as 55 stores in northern Illinois. The move has diluted organized labor's opposition to Walmart. Even the governor was hopeful the negotiations will lead to more grocery stores in Chicago's so-called food deserts.

"I do think that we have to have grocery stores in every neighborhood of our state. That's very important for the health of our people," said Gov. Quinn.

On Thursday, the City Council's zoning committee will hear the case of a proposed Walmart super center in the far South Side Pullman neighborhood. The company reportedly will propose at that hearing a citywide program to build stores of different sizes around Chicago.


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