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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Big-box politics

(updated below)

The Chicago City Council passed the big-box retailer ordinance by a vote of 35 to 14 on Wednesday, though it still might face a veto by Mayor Daley. I guess they just weren't listening to me.

I'm not against minimum wage laws — they certainly have their place, especially when the gap between rich and poor is growing as rapidly as it is. But as P. Pirx points out, singling out a single industry is neither fair nor economically wise, and may even be illegal under the Illinois Constitution.

When I find myself yelling at the radio on my way to work, that probably suggests something I should write about. The way the supporters of this law have gone about about passing it drives me nuts. They don't really know if it will keep large retailers away. And already, Wal-Mart is talking about ringing the city-limits with stores, rather than building in the city itself.

Why not work with Wal-Mart and other large retailers on a program that achieves higher wages while guaranteeing they'll still open new stores? In a world in which communities can be tricked into using hundreds of millions in tax dollars to build privately-owned stadiums, we should be able to exchange some tax breaks or other incentives for higher guaranteed wages.

One of the main defenses of this law is that the Chicago area is so desirable to retailers they will come here regardless of the increased wages. And this might be true. But I wouldn't discount Wal-Mart and its big buddies staying away just to send a message to other communities considering these kind of laws.

You might even call this "bullying tactics", as Alderman Joe Moore did. May be. But it's the poor neighborhoods which need these stores that will suffer. What does Moore care? He represents Rogers Park, a fairly nice neighborhood at the northernmost tip of Chicago. There is about as much chance of Wal-Mart opening a store in Rogers Park as a Moo & Oink opening on Michigan Avenue. Other boosters of the ordinance are similarly far removed from the action.

There is more than a little well-meaning racism here, and I'm not the only one who sees it:
"I've got these white liberals telling me what's good for my community. But this big-box thing will cost black people jobs," Ald. Ike Carothers (29th) told me during Wednesday's pontifications.

"If I put out a notice that there were 500 jobs waiting in my ward — what Wal-Mart was offering for each store — you'd see a line of people from my ward all the way to Mississippi. People want jobs. That's it."
Oh, these poor black people don't know what they're doing. Let's pass a law to help them, even if they don't approve. After all, we know better.

In the John Kass column quoted above, he suggests that the driving force behind this bill might be as simple as power struggles between a newly-weakened Daley and a City Council eager to buck him a bit. Call me crazy, but I'm a little suspicious of career politicians who are overly concerned with helping other people's constituents. And surprise surprise, organized labor wants to keep non-union jobs out of Chicago.
"At the heart of this ordinance is equality and fairness," Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon said in a statement. "Today's vote sends a message that our elected officials and community members alike are not interested in the creation of low-paying jobs that fail to provide a living wage or adequate health-care benefits for working families.

"The choice between no job and a low-paying job is a choice between bad and worse," Gannon said.
Is he serious? Why don't you ask some of the residents of Ald. Carothers' ward if they think low-paying jobs are worse than no jobs at all.

If the stores still move to Chicago and the law passes constitutional muster, that's great. Higher wages for the workers, tax money for the city, happy ending for everyone. But it's an awful big risk to take when you're gambling with other people's lives. Or rather, the lives of other people's constituents.


Daley vetoes the ordinance. Sweet.


Blogger Mandasaurus said...

See, this is a complicated issue because while a really crappy job is better than no job, the difference isn't too big. Yes, it's better to have a tiny paycheck than no paycheck.

But it's much, much better to have a paycheck (even a tiny one) that comes with benefits, like health insurance, sick leave and good stuff like that.

I believe that Big Box stores can offer more job security and better benefits (like Starbucks). So, even if the wages are low it's not such a bad deal for employees.

And I hear if you work at Target you get a discount! Rock!

Anonymous Toothpick said...

Oh Buck, you’re so wrong. Why is it that Costco can pay their employees 10 bucks an hour including benefits but WALMART, the BIGGEST COMPANY on Earth can't afford to comply with this City ordinance? Greed, that’s why. Not only does Walmart squeeze its own suppliers for the lowest possible price on goods, forcing them to move their factories to China/Mexico/India/Pakistan and cut their American work force so that someone can save 20 cents of their Mac & Cheese and a dollar off a pack of underwear. Walmart's cheap foreign goods perpetuate this cycle of “low, low prices” for the sake of quality paying jobs here in the United States. They should realize that by paying their employees a decent wage they’ll have more competition for these store positions resulting in finding better/qualified workers who have an incentive to keep their jobs. Which leads to fewer turnovers; cutting down on time spent training new people. So now a single-mother of two children can find a job that offers her an opportunity to pay her rent/utilities and have money left over for other needs, plus not having to worry about healthcare for her children. I’m proud to be from Chicago. It's great that the city council actually defied King Daley. Don't worry Buck, those big box places will soon be crawling back looking for spots in the city because greed and profits is what motivates these people.

Blogger Buck B. said...

Greed and profits, huh? And what exactly motivates everyone else in the world?

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