Aldermen in Chicago are looking for ways to get business practices commitments from big box retailers like Wal-Mart to lessen the damage they do to the local economy. According to the Daily Southtown newspaper, a proposal being considered in Chicago would set “minimum standards” for how superstores that seek city tax incentives conduct business — outlawing, for instance, practices that could undercut competition in the retail market. The ordinance would require companies to pay a living wage, provide a minimum level of benefits to its workers, and remain neutral in union attempts to organize workers and promise not to use their buying power as leverage to force competitors to close up shop. “The philosophy is to make sure anyone seeking to do business in Chicago contributes to the overall economic well-being of the city,” said North Side Alberman Joe Moore. “Without it, these businesses could end up costing the city economically with lost businesses and jobs at a faster rate than (places like) Wal-Mart provide. It’s like the oil barons of 100 years ago. The oil industry got so big and powerful that it resulted in no competition at all.” The ordinance will target a proposed development agreement for a Wal-Mart store on the South Side of Chicago that is currently pending before the City Council. The south side rezoning was narrowly defeated, but could come up for reconsideration. A Wal-Mart on the West Side of town has already been approved after much debate. Rather than fighting the South Side zoning change only, Moore and ordinance co-authors Aldermen Manuel Flores and Billy Ocasio want to block the South Side Wal-Mart and set a citywide precedent of withholding redevelopment incentives from businesses that don’t agree, in writing, to certain terms. “We need proactive legislation that addresses concerns about predatory business practices, issues of discrimination and the business’s impact, whether positive or negative, on the community,” Flores said. “I don’t think we should allow public dollars to be used for those developments.” Moore said requiring “big-box” retailers to play fair with existing businesses isn’t a new idea. He compared it to the city’s push to create more affordable housing by requiring residential developers who receive tax incentives to build affordable housing units. The proposal could be introduced as soon as the June 23 city council meeting.
For earlier stories on Wal-Mart battles in the windy city, search Newsflash by “Chicago.”