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Chicago Wal-Mart: Daley Gets Behind Wage Deal As Critical Vote Approaches

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Speaking at a news conference at Hirsch High School, Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley gave a strong endorsement of the wage agreement offered by Wal-Mart in exchange for developing dozens of Chicago stores.

"We need these stores all over the city, and we need the jobs and the economic power they bring to the community," Mayor Daley said Tuesday.

The big-box retailer has offered to pay workers $8.75 an hour, 50 cents over the minimum wage but well short of the "living wage" union officials had been asking for.

But Daley appeared to think the deal was plenty generous.

"No one debates it in the suburban areas," Daley said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "It's amazing. No one ever questions wages."

The Sun-Times yesterday reported the reaction of Jorge Ramirez, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, to the proposed deal -- which, needless to say, was not as favorable:

"It's 50-cents above the minimum wage. The big-box ordinance was $11.03-an-hour, plus $3 in benefits. Folks in our coalition are outraged that they wasted our time for a month-and-a-half and came up with something they knew would not be acceptable," Ramirez said.

"This is a straight muscle play by Wal-Mart to ram this down the City Council's throat. Aldermen are gonna see through it."

Wal-Mart has been pushing aggressively for the City Council to approve its developing stores around Chicago. Proponents of the new Wal-Marts say they will help address the crisis of so-called "food deserts," vast swaths of the city in which fresh food is out of reach. The only available food for miles of the South Side is packaged foods from corner stores or meals from fast-food restaurants, which leads to grave public health problems among the already struggling residents of the area. Advocates also point to the benefits of job creation that would come with new Wal-Marts.

But labor officials and their allies in city government have been consistently demanding that any Wal-Mart development come with protections for workers. The $11.03-an-hour figure was proposed in a piece of legislation, the "big box ordinance," that failed to make its way out of the City Council.

Both sides are ramping up the rhetoric in advance of Thursday's vote by the Council's Zoning Committee on whether or not to allow Wal-Marts to be built at two proposed locations on the South Side.

The mayor made his opinion clear today.

"This is a bonanza, both for revenue, both for jobs and economic opportunities," Daley said.