The Chicago City Council unanimously approved a zoning change that will allow a Wal-Mart in the Pullman neighborhood, which currently lacks an outlet that sells fresh groceries and cheap Vietnamese-made lampshades. The alderman were almost as unanimous in their self-loathing and regret at having to vote for such a measure. But what could they do? They’d been whipped by Walmart. Zoning is an alderman’s prerogative, and the unions had approved the deal. So they voted aye, but spent an hour moaning about it.
“I will vote yes,” said 24th Ward Ald. Sharon Dixon, “but I’m holding my nose as I do it, because we’re accepting a very low standard: $8.75 an hour.”
Ald. Ed Smith, of the Walmart-ready 28th Ward, pointed out that Walmart’s living wage amounts to $13,650 a year. That’s less than the company’s CEO earns for a single hour of plotting to put small-town hardware stores out of business and dickering for shipments of Adidas sewn together by four-year-olds in the slums of Jakarta.
“That’s the great Walmart,” Smith trumpeted sarcastically. “That’s why I’m not snapping to attention or saluting the great Walmart.”
Smith and his colleagues may not have snapped or saluted, but they did bend over for America’s largest private employer. Now that Wal-Mart has slipped into Chicago, the company is declaring its intention to become a bottom-dollar Marshall Field’s, with outposts all over town.
“Today is a victory for the residents of the South Side,” said Hank Mullany, Executive Vice President and President, Wal-Mart North, Wal-Mart U.S. “But there is more to do. To that end, we have already started to identify additional opportunities across the City that will help more Chicagoans save money and live better. Over the next several months, we look forward to working with the City to help ensure our stores are part of the solution in terms of creating jobs, stimulating economic development and eradicating food deserts here. With each new store that opens here and every new job created, Chicago moves one step closer towards returning the City to better economic times while also serving as a successful model for other cities across the country that face similar challenges.”
The aldermen were aware that other big cities are watching Chicago to see how it absorbs the urban and suburban phenomenon.
“Urban Wal-Mart versus rural Walmart, the jury will be out for awhile,” 2nd Ward Ald. Robert Fioretti said. “There’s only one Wal-Mart in Los Angeles, and none in New York.” Then he quoted a study showing that for every job it creates, Wal-Mart destroys a job-and-a-half.
If that turns out to be the case, this may not be the City Council’s last debate on Walmart.