Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Always Low Wages. Always.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Mayor Daley thinks Walmart will fill the city's coffers. But while the retailer may provide some much-needed revenue to Chicago, it'll stiff Chicago's workers. Fact, they should be changing their infamous logo to “Always Low Wages. Always.” The chain store’s offer to pay its employees $8.75 an hour -- just 50 cents above the local minimum -- is insulting to the unions who’ve been demanding a living wage.

    Walmart founder Sam Walton became the wealthiest man in America by adapting the economic structure of the plantation to modern retail sales. The setting was different -- aisles of off-brand lamps, t-shirts and vacuum cleaners instead of a Mississippi Delta rice field -- but the concept was the same. Hundreds of people worked for subsistence wages while the owner reveled in the profits of their labor. "I pay low wages," Walton once said. "I can take advantage of that."

    That doesn't play well in Chicago, location of the Haymarket Square Riot, which led to the eight-hour workday, and the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937, where 10 workers died while trying to unionize Republic Steel.

    Walmart seems to believe it can pay whatever it wants because Mayor Daley’s backs the store’s expansion in Chicago, and Mayor Daley has always gotten what he wants from the city council. When aldermen passed a bill that would have forced big retailers to pay $11.03 an hour, plus $3 in benefits, Daley vetoed it.

    But Daley can’t use his veto to force the City Council to accept Walmart. He needs 25 votes. Daley is so desperate to get this passed that he’s twisting arms in the Council cloakroom. The mayor almost never asks aldermen for anything. He tells them what to do.

    In this case, though, aldermen may fear the unions more than they fear their usual master, Mayor Daley. In 2007, union money helped defeat or force into runoffs several aldermen who opposed the big-box ordinance. The aldermen know the unions are a much more generous source of campaign contributions than the business community.

    There’s no money in doing dirty work for Walmart.