The Chicago City Council is reviewing two ordinances that would require big box stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target and Lowe’s to pay their workers a “living wage.” The two ordinances are somewhat similar, but both would require a minimum hourly wage of about $10 and at least $3 an hour in fringe benefits. The ordinances would affect stores with more than 75,000 s.f. and with at least $1 billion in annual sales. The Council’s Finance Committee has the ordinances under study. The proposal has drawn the criticism of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, who made it clear that the ordinances would not only affect retailers like Wal-Mart, but “literally thousands of retailers.” The IRMA threatened to take the city to court if either measure passes. IRMA told the committee that the city lacks the legal authority to set wage rates, and that, if a big box measure passed, it would violate the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution, because it would put a burden on some retailers, and not others. The measures were also opposed by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, which told the Chicago Tribune, “A big box ordinance would further limit the opportunities available to Chicago residents seeking first-time or part-time employment.” But Alderman Joe Moore (49th), sponsor of one of the proposed ordinances, told the Tribune that his lawyers have assured him that the ordinance would stand up to a court challenge. The courts have ruled that distinctions can be made among industries if there is a rational basis for doing so. The Living Wage measures have drawn widespread support from religious leaders in Chicago, who conducted a prayer vigil outside the council chambers recently. “We have to step in and force stores to treat their workers fairly and pay them just wages,” Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church told the Tribune. “We cannot allow one group to be buying a second private jet and a second summer home … while their workers are trying to pay rent and are a step away from poverty and homelessness.” The Progressive Grocer magazine reported that 33 of 50 city council members have signed on to the proposed ordinance. The Illinois minimum wage currently is $6.50 an hour. A study released by the Center for Urban Economic Development of the University of Illinois at Chicago predicts that the ordinances would mean a wage increase for more than 9,000 of the 16,000 workers at 35 big-box stores in the city.
For related stories, search Newsflash by “wages” or “health care.” Maryland was the first state to pass an ordinance mandating a level of health care spending on employees by large companies, but similar measures are pending in more than two dozen other states. For copies of a health care sample ordinance, email [email protected]