Jan 13, 2010
[UPDATED] Again with the polls — Walmart has a full-page ad in the paper today touting three polls showing over 70 percent support for a Walmart on the South Side.
Of course, the next question is not asked. It’s this: do you think Walmart and other big businesses should pay a living wage?
In fact, as Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative reminds us, when voters were asked the followup question, they responded overwhelmingly in the affirmative.
In voter referendums in 300 precincts during the campaign for a living wage ordinance in 2005 and 2006, voters supported a requirement that big box stores pay a living wage by margins in the 80 percent range. Patel points out that support for the ordinance was strongest in African American precincts.
In 2007, when the living wage ordinance was a major issue in a number of aldermanic elections, supporters of the ordinance carried the day by a wide margin.
Those are the polls the politicians care about – and that’s why, for all the outrage of editorial boards and columnists demanding full deference to the world’s largest corporation, there’s a limit on what Walmart can do in Chicago.
Even Mayor Daley recognizes it, so far at least, declining to approve the 83rd Street Walmart without Council backing. And whenever an amended redevelopment agreement for the site is brought forward, the Good Jobs Chicago coalition intends to ensure that alderman get to vote on adding a community benefits agreement guaranteeing decent wages and benefits, and local hiring and investment. And all these people can count votes.
Good Jobs Chicago has been canvassing the 9th and 21st wards and reports residents are responsive to their message.
“People hear only one side of the story – that a Walmart job is better than no job,” said Latrell Smith, an organizer with Action Now. “When they hear the other side, it hits them that $8 an hour won’t begin to cover basic necessities or get people off public assistance. Almost everyone we talked to agreed it’s a good thing to set reasonable standards for the ‘big boxes.’”
Patel applauded Ald. Edward Burke’s proposal to require a living wage of companies receiving city subsidies (withdrawn Monday after business leaders objected), noting similar measures have been passed in Denver and Pittsburgh. “It’s a great way to make sure development is creating good jobs,” she said.
Judging from polls, the ones where voters vote, Chicagoans would tend to agree.