Chicago Mayor Favors Wal-Mart Expansion

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For years, officials in Chicago, with the support of labor and community groups, have been fighting with Wal-Mart — only allowing one of the giant retailer's stores inside the city's borders. Wal-Mart now is offering to pay potential Chicago employees a higher minimum wage to break the stalemate. A proposal to build several dozen Chicago stores has the backing of Mayor Richard Daley.


In Chicago, community groups and labor unions have been working for years to keep Wal-Mart out. There's only one store in Chicago now. But the world's largest retailer has a new plan, supported by the mayor, to open dozens of stores.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: The battle over Wal-Mart has always been an emotional one here. But Mayor Richard Daley says when the question is whether there should be more Wal-Mart, it comes down to a simple concept.

Mayor RICHARD DALEY (Chicago): People need jobs in the city, and the county and state - needs the revenue.

Mr. JORGE RAMIREZ (Secretary-Treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor): He's right. Jobs are an important piece of this recovery process.

CORLEY: But Jorge Ramirez, with the Chicago Federation of Labor, says Wal-Mart workers need to make a livable wage - more like $11 an hour instead of the $8.75 that Wal-Mart has offered, 50 cents more than the state's minimum wage.

Mr. RAMIREZ: And they're capable of paying a much higher wage rate.

CORLEY: Wal-Mart wants to build dozens of new stores in Chicago over a five-year period. It says that would mean thousands of new jobs; 500 million in annual tax revenue for Chicago; and the elimination of so-called food deserts, where residents have few grocery options.

But Reverend Booker Vance, with the group Good Job Chicago, says what Wal-Mart is most interested in is its bottom line.

Reverend VANCE BOOKER (Chairman, Good Job Chicago): They recognize that their market is no longer in the suburbs, and their market is no longer in the rural areas. They want to come into the city because they know they're going to be able to gain off the market.

CORLEY: An urban market of nearly 3 million consumers.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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