Friday, July 23, 2010

Walmart Number Three?

Posted By on 07.23.10 at 01:10 PM

When union leaders revealed the details of a so-called deal that would allow Walmart to open a store in the far south side neighborhood of Pullman, they warned the big-box retailer that they would keep an eye on them.

“There’s going to be 21 more stores,” said Dennis Gannon, who was the president of the Chicago Federation of Labor at the time. “We’re going to hold Walmart accountable at every zoning and every TIF hearing on every step of the road to make sure that they’re living up to their side of our agreement.”

Well, they'd better be ready to move, because Mayor Daley is ramming through a plan that would allow Walmart to open its third store in the city.

Daley told reporters yesterday that he wants the City Council’s finance committee to take a vote on a proposed Walmart for the Chatham neighborhood at today’s meeting. If the store passes that hurdle, it could go up for a vote at next week’s full City Council meeting. It's not unusual for the mayor to pressure aldermen to approve what he wants at breakneck speed, as was the case with the parking meter lease and the the city's new handgun law. It took two months for aldermen to approve the Pullman Walmart, but Daley doesn’t seem to want the City Council to take its time on the Chatham store, even though he says there’s room for debate.

“As everyone knows, the issue of whether Walmart should be allowed to build or open new stores in the city was debated for a long time, and it was a good debate,” Daley told reporters. “There’s nothing wrong with a debate like that.”

The Chatham store is the ugly stepsister in the Walmart saga. In 2004 the council rejected it even as it approved a Walmart for Austin, and the store’s chief proponent in the City Council, 21st Ward alderman Howard Brookins, has been trying to get his fellow aldermen to revisit it ever since.

But aldermen technically don’t have to vote on the store in order for it to move forward. Daley could have his top city planner sign off on the project. Instead he's letting the City Council take any heat for the store.

“Why the rush?” says 49th Ward alderman Joe Moore, who’s openly criticized Daley and Walmart. “If the mayor wants it to go in, he can wear the jacket for it.”

Meanwhile some aldermen are becoming increasing skeptical that Walmart will pay starting salaries of $8.75, as unions have claimed. Walmart spokesman Steve Restivo says there are no binding documents showing Walmart will pay those rates.

“All I can say is that we will offer a competitive wage,” Restivo told me.

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