Battle over more Walmart stores heats up

June 16, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Only one Walmart is within the Chicago city limits. Over the last several years, there has been much resistance to expansion plans-- mainly over Walmart's wages and benefits.

On Wednesday, Daley retook the lead role -- publicly and behind the scenes -- in the political battle to expand Walmart in Chicago. Now there are signs the anti-Walmart forces are wearing down as city hall comes under increasing pressure to help create jobs.

"Who is gonna come and build one store? Tell me. One store? And you say, 'Where are the jobs?'" said Daley.

Despite his longtime support for Walmart in Chicago, Daley insisted he is acting as a mediator between organized labor, which is demanding workers in city stores be paid a so-called living wage, and the world's largest retailer, which wants to build supercenters that offer food as well other products, in the nation's third largest city.

The mayor says Walmart's entry level jobs, which pay minimum wage or slightly more, are important to the youngest of the unemployed.

"You have to have people starting someplace on jobs. I really believe this. And that's what retailing does. You start here and you move up," said Daley.

The city council-- lobbied heavily by unions-- has stopped Walmart from building supercenters in two predominantly black, high unemployment neighborhoods on the South Side. Residents in the areas live in so-called food deserts where few markets sell fresh vegetables and meat.

"There's no shopping centers over in this area. This has been a vacant spot for a long time and they need to fill it with convenience," said Cynthia Smith, South Side resident.

Walmart-- which built a store without groceries on the West Side in 2006-- stepped up its Chicago expansion effort as the recession deepened and unemployment increased. The Reverend Jesse Jackson says the economic situation demands reconciliation between organized labor and the non-union retailer.

"We must fight for workers' right to be organized. But Walmart is evolving. The pressures are having an impact," said Rev. Jackson, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

Mayor Daley repeated a concern he's expressed for several years: Why don't the unions complain when Walmart opens stores in the suburbs?

"If suburban areas have this, why can't we have it in the black and Hispanic communities?" said Mayor Daley.

On June 24, the issue will go before the zoning committee hearing. The mayor indicated that Walmart would make a presentation to the aldermen that could possibly include new concessions. Also reported- Walmart may offer to build dozens of stores in Chicago instead of just two on the South Side.

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