Vote postponed on 2nd Walmart

May 5, 2010 (CHICAGO) The union's demand was a main source of contention for aldermen, who have blocked the retailing giant's efforts in the past.

On Wednesday afternoon Chicago aldermen delayed a key vote that would have paved the way for the new Walmart to be built in the Pullman neighborhood on the city's South Side, as well as any others.

Walmart executives, Chicago labor leaders and aldermen met behind closed doors this week. Those involved had to sign confidentiality agreements, but it appears Walmart may be closer than ever to coming to terms on a deal to expand the number of stores in the city limits.

It's a deal not everyone wants to see go through- but others do.

"Trust me: Overnight Walmart will suck dry every existing business in the 9th Ward within a 5 mile radius," said a resident at the hearing.

"Why should we have to subsidize wages of workers who work for one of America's richest corporations? I can't understand that!" said a second.

"Do they pay fair wages? Well I can show you a number of companies that do business in our neighborhood and they are the scourge of the community and nobody wants to discuss that," said a third person.

"Why do we have a problem building Walmart in a community where no one else comes?" said a fourth.

In fact, there was far less protest or push back from Chicago City Council when other big box retailers who pay comparable wages to Walmart sought to open their doors.

So, why is Menards OK for the city? Why is Target OK for the city? But not Walmart?

"It's a great question. We gotta start somewhere. We're going to start with the largest corporation and we're gonna work our way down," said Dennis Gannon, Chicago Federation of Labor.

Labor leaders are now dropping their demand that Walmart unionize before being granted the zoning it needs to open new stores in Chicago. Instead, they insist the retailer must pay a living wage of at least $11.03 an hour. Walmart says average hourly wage at stores in the region is already $11.30 an hour. The average worker makes $11.77 at Walmart's lone store in the city.

"Our wages and benefits are as good if not better than every single business we compete with," said Steven Restivo, Walmart, community affairs.

The city council's planning and zoning committee now says the debate is done and the vote to allow a South Side Walmart will happen on June 3. Between now and then, aldermen are encouraging Walmart to meet again with labor leaders to perhaps put a compromise on wages and benefits in writing.

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