Chicago May Pass Wage Law For Big Boxes

June 2, 2006 - 10:47

Chicago, Ill., City Council members are considering a proposed ordinance that would require larger retailers such as Wal-Mart or Home Depot to pay employees a “living wage” of at least $10 per hour plus $3 per hour in benefits. The bill would affect stores with at least 75,000 sq.ft. that are operated by companies taking in at least $1 billion in annual sales. Smaller Chicago retailers would be unaffected and would continue to follow Illinios’ minimum wage of at least $6.50 per hour.

As of press time, 33 out of 50 council members have passed the ordinance, which is enough for it to pass as early as next month, stated the New York Times. A spokeswoman for the city said the proposal has yet to be reviewed by lawyers, who will determine if there are legal issues in making demands of certain retailers and not others.

Those in favor of the law believe it will help preserve the middle class, but opponents feel it will keep employers from moving into Chicago, thus harming the city’s economy.

Emma Mitts, alderwoman of a West Side Chicago neighborhood, expressed concern over the proposal, because Chicago’s first Wal-Mart is scheduled to open in her community this year. “Don’t let me be the experiment,” she told the New York Times, “Not at a time when my community needs these jobs so badly.”

Over the next two years Wal-Mart plans to build more than 50 stores in neighborhoods with high crime or unemployment rates, on sites that are environmentally contaminated, or in vacant buildings or malls in need of revitalization. The new stores are expected to create jobs, many of which will be in minority communities and generate more than $100 million in state and local tax revenue for these communities.

If the law passes, 9,000 of the roughly 16,000 workers at about 35 big-box stores would receive wage increases. Similar legislation has been introduced in Washington, D.C., and discussed in New Jersey. Other states have passed laws that require certain larger employers to provide health benefits for workers, but none of the laws contains a wage requirement.

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