Sunday, July 23, 2006

Big-box ordinance would hurt blacks who need jobs

I've been trying to find a way to discuss the debate with regards to Wal-Mart other than using my own small knowledge of Economics and merely regurgitating what I've heard especially if it makes sense to me. Then I've heard tidbits here and there on cable access. The calls were either in agreement or not in agreement with Wal-Mart coming into the black community.

There are those who complained that Wal-Mart doesn't pay enough. There are those who claim Wal-Mart are nothing but some slave masters paying slave wages. Then there are those who say that disadvantaged communities will need these opportunities in such communities. No doubt opinions are all over the place.

Then I see Mary Mitchell's column this morning. She starts off by talking about the unions, who seem to hate Wal-Mart with a passion (that I've never understood)...

If City Council goes ahead and passes the "big-box" ordinance, it would show a couple of things. The first, of course, is that despite bad schools, the lack of black faces on construction sites and double-digit unemployment rates in black neighborhoods, unions still have a firm grip on this town
She talks about the proposed ordinance which requires by July 1, 2010 that superstores such as Wal-Mart and Target to pay their employees $10/hour and $3 in benefits. But Mitchell notes...
But underneath the feel-good rhetoric about all those poor black folks needing to make a living wage, the real battle with Wal-Mart is between the superstore and unions that are trying to organize its workers.

That's reason enough for union members to want to stick it to Wal-Mart. But what about the thousands of black people who are stuck in the unemployment line?

I put that question to the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church because, quite frankly, I was surprised he was supporting this ordinance.

"We need to have jobs where people can work and still not be in poverty," he told me. "Wal-Mart has billions of dollars in profits. You should share your profits with your workers. I'm totally against this craziness that any job is better than no job."
But then she has a take about what having a job at Wal-Mart is really all about...

What other company is going to hire a black person who has dropped out of high school and is basically unskilled and lacks job training? In the old days, an unskilled worker could go to a manufacturing company or to the steel mills and work his or her way up from the assembly line.

But those jobs are long gone.

That's why parents are pushing and pulling their kids through high school, and then piling on debt to get them through college. We know firsthand that an entry-level job at Wal-Mart isn't going to pay much. And, after all, who really wants their kid to end up living a minimum-wage life.

Yet despite our warnings, kids do drop out of school. And people get divorced; spouses die; retirees sometimes are forced to go back to work. When life takes these twists and turns, we can at least thank God for Wal-Mart.

Second, passage of the big-box ordinance would make poor people the sacrificial lambs in this battle. Look around your neighborhood: Who's working in the small shops? It's certainly not black people.

So suppose the superstores fold up their blueprints. What then?

"If this ordinance is successful, the unions would have carried the day temporarily," said Eugene Morris, CEO and Chairman of E. Morris Communications. "But at what cost? The cost is not being paid by the aldermen, who can shop where they want. The cost is being paid by poor people who have to go miles to get to a decent store."
And here's something I didn't know, Wal-Mart is actually good to black owned contractors. We just met one of them in that last quote Eugene Morris, but who else...

Morris' company has done business with Wal-Mart for the past 14 years. A member of the Alliance of Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs, the African-American-owned advertising agency is one of many companies that has benefitted from Wal-Mart's investment in the black community.

Other black-owned companies doing business with Wal-Mart include Ariel Capital Management, which manages Wal-Mart's 401(k) plan, and Margaret Garner, the owner of Broadway Consolidated Construction, the first and only African-American female-owned firm to build a Wal-Mart store.

Alliance members do more business with Wal-Mart than any other company, Morris told me.

"We do about $300 million in business transactions," he said. "Here is a company that has demonstrated that they will hire people from the community, will do business with people within the community, and we are going to keep them out?" he asked.

If black aldermen are ignoring this dynamic, then they are serving their communities with blinders on.

In its June issue, DiversityInc magazine named Wal-Mart No. 6 among its "Top 10 Companies for African Americans" based on the company's "recruiting at [historically black colleges and universities] and professional organizations, investing in black-owned businesses, building community relationships through philanthropy and leadership roles in black organizations and marketing directly to African Americans."
Now while Mitchell supports a living wage she says that this proposal will only serve to hurt those communities that may not be able to survive the damgage that may be cause by this ordinance. I'm very inclined to agree. The struggling black communities in the city needs some type of economic engine. The argument won't fly if the concern is for mom and pop stores why because there aren't many such shops in the black community. Those callers on cable access who complain about Wal-Mart not paying enough or calling Wal-Mart slave masters probably wouldn't take a job if one was staring at them in the face.

I close this post with Mary's challenge to those blacks sitting on the city council...
The only reason I can think of for black aldermen to vote for this ordinance is that they've forgotten it wasn't the insiders, but the outsiders that sent them to City Council.
Crossposted @ It's My Mind


the Other Anonymous,  11:24 AM  

I'm surprised that Mitchell didn't pick up on a different aspect of the big-box living wage ordinance. In addition to requiring a decent (although not great) wage, the ordinance would prohibit discrimination in hiring by WalMart based on a job applicant's criminal history (unless the criminal history results in an urneasonable risk or is directly related to the applicant's ability to do the job).

The biggest obstacle to employment for many African-American males is a criminal record, often for drug-related offenses. This ordinance directly addresses that problem. Let's face it, there's plenty of places that are willing to hire unskilled workers at WalMart wages, but few large employers will hire someone with a criminal record even if the criminal record is irrelevant to the employment. (For example, a past drug offense doesn't mean that the applicant is currently using drugs; besides, drug testing would provide more relevant information on that question than a criminal record.)

WalMart's current hiring practices are not the answer to the lack of jobs in the inner city. That's why the ordinance is needed.

Yellow Dog Democrat 2:57 PM  

The answer to unemployment in the black community isn't to import low-wage jobs suitable for high school drop outs, it's to help those young people who dropped out get their GED and rebuild Chicago's public school system, so they don't drop out in the first place.

That's why Rev. Jesse Jackson has argued that we need to fund truancy officers, to help keep kids in school and pass sweeping education funding refrom that increases funding for Chicago's schools by more than $1300 per child. Mitchell is right, we need to reform school funding -- which organized labor supports -- but we also need to ensure a living wage for every worker we can.

Jackson argues -- correctly -- that the people have a right to fair wages for a fair days work. Or, as President Clinton put it: "People who work hard and play by the rules ought to have a chance to get ahead in life."

What kind of chance does Wal-Mart offer? As one ex-employee tells it, she working her tail off and doing everything her boss told her he needed to do to earn a promotion, only to find out he wouldn't give her one. When she asked "Is it because I'm a woman, or because I'm black?" he replied "Two out of two ain't bad."

Chicago already has more retailers than anyone can count, even in our predominantly black neighborhoods. Neighborhood retailers, grocery stores, food stands -- I see them all the time driving up and down Halstead, Cottage Grove, MLK Drive. If Wal-Mart comes to town, those same businesses -- where a black woman actually has a chance to move ahead -- will soon see themselves boarded up.

Mary Mitchell's column is proof that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. She needs to do her research and think things through before the next time she picks up her pen.

Randall Sherman 3:55 PM  

Do you think my good-for-nothing alderman Joe Moore (49th) really gives a damn about whether or not his proposal will hurt African-Americans who need jobs? That SOB spends more time shaking down owners of substandard housing and/or businesses in the ward for "campaign contributions" than he does coming up with ill-advised proposals for the City Council to consider.

Gerald McBoing Boing,  4:26 PM  

Levois said:
"She starts off by talking about the unions, who seem to hate Wal-Mart with a passion (that I've never understood)..."

The reason unions hate Wal-Mart is that WM is the largest employer in the world and doesn't have a single union employee anywhere in the US. You may remember the Super Wal-mart's used to have butcher shops in the meat department, much like Kroger and Schucks. No longer. Part of the reason, besides the payroll cost, is that one meat department down in Texas, I believe, voted to unionize. Rather than have a unionized store in the company and, since WM, due to labor laws, couldn't get rid of just the one department, the company closed them all down, saving lots of money and getting rid of the union in the process.

Bill Baar 4:37 PM  

Anyone willing to invest in Chicago should be welcome.

It's the progressive thing to do.

It's about as simple as that.

Skeeter 5:19 PM  

Can we raise your taxes to pay for the health care for Wal-Mart employees?

Anonymous,  7:29 PM  

I Do NOT support the big box ordiance for many reasons for the most part my reasons have already been metioned previously.

I saw Ald. Lyle on Fox 32 this morning talking about thi issue (she supports the big box ordinace). Also she supports the "cost of living increase" for Alderman. I gather that for her this is a way to justify the alderman cost of living increase---she can say I supported a cost of living wage for the little people---I'm not a bad person.

I cannot imagine how at nearly $100K/year she can think that puts her par with someone who makes $6.50/hr or $12-15K /year.

Of course she, like Alderman Stone, go out an beg for their jobs every four years. She knew what she was getting when she campaigned for the job, and every time she campaigns for to get re-elected. if she wants more money and feels that she is not being justly compenstated at $98K then she should work in the private sector. Afterall she is an attorney.

On Fox 32 this morning Ald. Lyle brought up the subsidy issue and in effect argued that the low-wages that Wal-Mart workers get forces many of them to rely on government aid for medical care for their children.

Did she oppose Illinois Kids?

I wonder if the City Council Members who support the big box ordinace opposed Illinois Kids?

Illinois Kids is a subsidy for workers.

If you support Illinois Kids, and the Big Box oridance based on the it decreases the need to subsidize the worker argument then you are a hypocrite!

Amy Allen 10:06 PM  

Great post. Another thing against the living wage ordinance is that it would make it harder for people with no skills (like drop-outs) to get jobs.

YDD, remember that nobody makes anyone work at Wal-Mart. If they don't like it, they can quit. The pay there might be low, but any job is better than no job at all. And, they can use that money to go back to school, and get a better job.

Carlos,  10:44 PM  

Hi. Hadn't seen Mitchell's column, so thanks.

A simple challenge, though: I've been waiting for just one person who thinks this ordinance will scare off new retailers and their jobs to please show evidence that this will happen.

We're talking about economics, and some of you might think it's common sense (YDD mentioned the danger of a little knowledge), but if it's such a sure thing, I'm sure someone could find evidence of a city or town that has a living wage and has had less than average or negative job growth.

I'll be waiting to hear. By the way, the Target threat isn't proof until a Target official makes the statement on record.

Anonymous,  12:48 AM  

Give Jon Burge the security contract at Walmart, it would probably decrease shoplifting and employee stealing.

Skeeter 6:39 AM  

"On Fox 32 this morning Ald. Lyle brought up the subsidy issue and in effect argued that the low-wages that Wal-Mart workers get forces many of them to rely on government aid for medical care for their children.

Did she oppose Illinois Kids?

I wonder if the City Council Members who support the big box ordinace opposed Illinois Kids?

Illinois Kids is a subsidy for workers.

If you support Illinois Kids, and the Big Box oridance based on the it decreases the need to subsidize the worker argument then you are a hypocrite!"

Not at all. There are working poor among us. Wal-Mart makes the problem worse. The solution is not to abolish all public health care, but to have it naturally diminish because companies like Wal-Mart start picking up the tab for health care for their own employees.

the Other Anonymous,  8:51 AM  

Amy Allen said:
YDD, remember that nobody makes anyone work at Wal-Mart. If they don't like it, they can quit. The pay there might be low, but any job is better than no job at all. And, they can use that money to go back to school, and get a better job.

Where to begin?

First, when WalMart moves into one of these neighborhoods, it will become the dominant employer and will drive almost all other retail out of business. So, I don't think it's exactly fair to say that unskilled workers in areas of high unemployment will have a choice of whether to work at WalMart or someplace place.

Second, how do you propose that someone "go back to school" earning only $7-8/hour? That's $16,000 per year in an area where rent alone sets you back $8-12,000/year.

Third, it sounds like you're suggesting that because people are poor and desperate, we can pay them very little. Looking for better jobs is a luxury of the middle class. It's not how poor people live. Your attitude -- a job that pays little is better than no job at all -- is exactly what prevents poor people from exercising social mobility.

Anonymous,  1:54 PM  

Tough talking Randall Sherman doesn't like his alderman. Why don't you run against him if he is such a "SOB." Maybe others in his ward want an alternative. Could that be you?

John Ruberry 8:18 PM  

From National Review Online in 2004

More than 90 percent of Wal-Mart employees have health insurance. Half of those get their insurance through the company, and the rest through other means, whether their parents, or spouse, or Medicare. Many Wal-Mart employees are young people or semi-retired, and thus aren't supporting families. Employment there can be an escalator to success. Two-thirds of the stores' managers are former hourly employees.

From ABC News, earlier this year:

(Wal-Mart Chairman Lee) Scott said the "Value Plan" of $11 a month, now available in some areas, will be available to half of the company's employees within the next year. He also said children of part-time Wal-Mart employees will be eligible for health coverage as soon as the parent is and that the company plans to increase to about 50 the number of in-store health clinics that serve employees and the public.

Skeeter 8:49 PM  


First, note your own initial line: "THROUGH MEDICARE".

Second, "50% of employees" have some coverage, meaning of course that 50% have zero coverage. That is pathetic in its own.

Furher, do you believe that the people working for $7 per hour are going to be the among those 50%?

John Ruberry 9:39 PM  

50% of the 90%....Keep in mind these figures are two years old.

Skeeter 8:38 AM  

Good point, John. I stand corrected.
According to Wal-Mart, it provides some level of health insurance to only 45% of its employees. As I stated, I doubt the entry level workers qualify.

Can we raise your taxes, or should those workers be denied health care?

Or should we force Wal Mart to pick up part of the tab?

Pat Hickey 9:21 AM  

Mary Mitchell has a talent for citting through the cow-pasture produce and gets to the core of the issue.

The 'big box' ordinance is not about raising the standard of living for the working poor but in creating a political launching pad for the Joe Moore-minded prgressives, who have been hiding in the weeds for twenty years.

It makes sense to welcome investment in the inner-city without making an eye-gouge part of the ceremony.

If Zorn, Marin, Moore, Preckwinkle, U of W, Berkeley, and the good folks at ACORN are puching this issue you can make book that the unemployed in the inner city need not set their clocks for the hour of deliverence.

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