Council Delays Walmart Zoning Vote

Vote was planned for today

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Wal-Mart can wait.

The City Council’s Zoning Commission today postponed a crucial vote on whether to allow the retailing behemoth to build a second Chicago location in the Pullman neighborhood so labor leaders could have more time to negotiate with store officials.

Zoning committee chairman Danny Solis (25th Ward) said the vote would have to wait until June 3.

The delay didn’t stop arguments on both sides from traversing the council chamber.

Proponents want the jobs and groceries the proposed “supercenter” would bring.

"I'm here to ask you to give Wal-Mart a fair hearing,” said Joan Valakas, a Chicago food producer.  “I see them getting out into the community. People want jobs."

On the other side, organized labor says the retailer isn’t suited for an urban community,  and that its labor practices will harm the community. They want Wal-Mart to agree to pay a living wage.

"Organized labor is opposed to this issue,” said Dennis Gannon, Pres of Chicago Federation of Labor. “This is an urban community, Wal-Mart started in rural areas. We're worried about a class action lawsuit that women and African Americans aren't paid the same."

But labor officials are the ones who asked for the delay.

"If there's serious talks taking place, it's not a good thing to have a vote. That could jeopardize the talks," said Ald. Joe Moore (49th), who's in favor of the Pullman Wal-Mart to the paper. "We've waited this long. We can wait a little longer. It's in everyone's best interests that there be a compromise."

Negotiators are trying to strike a balance between the need for a job producing retail center in the neighborhood and the potential negative impact Walmart could bring, such as low wages and increased competition for local businesses.

"This won't just help the ninth ward," said Ald. Anthony Beale, who is leading the charge to bring the super store to the South Side.  "This is going to help the city of Chicago. The tax revenue, the retail revenue that's going to be generated from this, the jobs that are going to be created from this, we're talking about 780 part-time union jobs to build it over 12 years."

He agreed Tuesday that more discussion is a good thing.

A study from the University of Illinois and Loyola University (.pdf) found that a Walmart store that opened in the Austin neighborhood four years ago failed to expand employment opportunities. 

In fact, stores nearby were more likely to go out of business, resulting in a loss of about 300 full-time jobs. 

"What we're seeing here is that placing a Walmart in an urban setting is basically a wash in terms of sales revenue for the city and jobs for local residents," the study's co-author, David Merriman, said in January.

Still, some say that for the repressed, food-desert that is Pullman, anything that brings jobs to the area is something to be looked at.

"If the Walmart was to come to this area and hire the residents of the area, it would be terrific," said Kenneth Hood, who has lived in the area since 1973.

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