… then how abysmal must the other be? That’s the question City Hall and citizens alike find themselves facing after Mayor Daley re-opened a bitter debate today over whether mega-chain Wal-Mart can expand its presence in Chicago–a highly controversial issue, given the city’s historic roots as a union stronghold.
Citing the need for job creation, Daley “called on aldermen, union leaders and Wal-Mart to broker an agreement that would pave the way for a major Chicago expansion by the world’s largest retailer,” according to an article in today’s Sun-Times:
“I understand that, by discussing the issue, I’m raising a political hot potato,” Daley said, recalling the millions spent by organized labor in 2007 to elect aldermen opposed to Wal-Mart expansion.
But the mayor said today’s economic climate is “completely different” from three or four years ago.
“People are getting laid off,” Daley said. “There’s no future jobs. People can’t get jobs. They’re not only being laid off, they’re being eliminated out of their companies. So I’m calling upon everyone — both the aldermen, the community, all the unions involved and Wal-Mart — to sit down and come up with some common ground as quickly as possible.”
No crap, this is a “hot potato,” and one to watch at that–who knows if a successful Chicago expansion could give steam to Wal-Mart’s campaign to build stores in big cities like New York and Boston that don’t currently have them. To catch you up to speed on Chicago’s apparent mayoral flip-flop on the Wal-Mart issue (Daley sidelined the issue while Chicago was running for host-city designation for the 2016 Olympics, when labor unions were a much-needed ally) here’s a snapshot of the debate when it was raging here this summer:
Make no mistake: At least in Chicago, the driving issue isn’t mere queasiness at Wal-Mart’s reputation (which let’s admit, isn’t so stellar anyway thanks to documentaries like this). Instead, the battle for a Chicago Wal-Mart is a clash of titans, pitting organized labor in this vehemently pro-union town against South Siders (many of whom flee to nearby suburban Wal-Marts anyway) desperate for jobs and economic development in their own community. And let’s not forget about the politicians looking to swell city tax coffers by placing a mega-store within city limits.
Now, I’ve got my fair share of biases when it comes to Wal-Mart–after all, I grew up in one of those Western locales where the word “Wal-Mart” is more often than not prefaced with an honorary “the,” and bored teenagers spend as much time there hanging out with friends and playing free demos of Guitar Hero as they do shopping.
So T/S readers, I want your take. In Wal-Mart’s Chicago showdown, what should prevail? Should unemployment and economic development in an area infamous for its “grocery deserts” take precedence over the right to organize? Would allowing Wal-Mart in Chicago set the city’s workers down a slippery slope towards below-living wages, or is a sub-par wage better than none at all?
If there’s one thing I know I can rely on T/S readers for, it’s smart viewpoints and productive conversation. Message me in the comments section, and let’s get one going.