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'Dozens' of Wal-Marts in Chicago?
Chicago Sun-Times
Fran Spielman

June 16, 2010
View the Original Article

Wal-Mart is prepared to build "dozens" of Chicago stores large and small if Mayor Daley can find a way to break a six-year-old City Council stalemate over demands that the world's largest retailer pay a "living wage" of at least $11.03 an hour, City Hall sources said Tuesday.

Daley met privately with Wal-Mart executives last weekend while attending the U.S. Conference of Mayor's meeting in Oklahoma City and came away encouraged about a massive Chicago expansion.

Sources said Wal-Mart is no longer talking about building just five supercenters in inner-city "food deserts" desperate for shopping choices. Instead, it's talking about building "dozens" of large and small Chicago stores, creating "thousands" of sorely needed jobs.

"We've been very open about the fact that we want to operate more stores in Chicago. I can't speak to the number," Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo said. "We operate different formats all over the world and, in every market where we do business, we're willing to do whatever it takes to be closer to our customers. Chicago is no different."

Daley refused to reveal the number of proposed Wal-Mart stores. But he's hoping the deal will be big enough that labor's City Council allies will be afraid to say "no."

"They've made a commitment for a variety of stores -- the food desert stores, 20,000 square feet all the way up to super" centers, he said. "Each alderman has to respond to their community. . . . The amount of tradesmen that are out of work -- it's enormous. You have to put people back to work."

The face-to-face meeting in Oklahoma City was first disclosed by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed. It followed strategy sessions between Wal-Mart and Daley advisers, including former chief of staff Lori Healey and CTA Board Chairman Terry Peterson.

Jorge Ramirez, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, said he's encouraged that Daley's decision to get personally involved in the talks will force Wal-Mart back to the table.

The groundwork for a historic breakthrough was laid May 3 during an unprecedented meeting between five Wal-Mart executives and five union leaders. Since then, there has been no formal dialogue between the two sides and no response to the framework presented by unions.

The stalemate has forced the City Council's Zoning Committee to twice postpone showdown votes on Chicago's second Wal-Mart -- in a Far South Side development known as Pullman Park. Another meeting is scheduled for next week.

"Maybe the mayor is gonna shake something loose," Ramirez said.

He added: "How does any elected official -- the mayor included -- not think we deserve an urban wage? . . . This is their first urban marketplace. This isn't Clinton, Iowa. It takes more to live here."

An influential alderman, who asked to remain anonymous, predicted that the Zoning Committee vote on a Pullman Park Wal-Mart would be "a tie at best" without a last-minute agreement on wages.

"I still don't see the numbers. The closer it gets to an election, the more reluctant aldermen will be to vote for something that gets the unions mad at them," the alderman said.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), whose ward includes Pullman Park, predicted that Wal-Mart and labor would meet again before the June 24 Zoning Committee meeting.

Asked whether the Pullman Park Wal-Mart would finally be called for a vote, Beale said, "It depends. What comes out of that meeting is pretty much gonna drive everything."