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Economic Development Tue Oct 22 2013

Bronzeville Organizers Seek Living Wages and Local Hiring Practices at Walmart's Newest Chicago Store

A caucus of nine Bronzeville pastors wants Walmart to agree to pay living wages and hire from the community when the store opens its newest Chicago location at 47th and Cottage Grove Avenue.

Roderick Wilson, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center and a spokesman for the caucus of Bronzeville pastors, said the group's main concern is that the community be able to prosper from Walmart's expansion into their neighborhood.

"We want to make sure that any large-scale business like that benefits the community outside of just providing goods for purchase," Wilson said in an interview.

"We see this as an opportunity for community development in the sense that they're paying people a living wage and that they have a local hiring preference," Wilson said. "We think that would help residents increase their quality of life and help them stay within Bronzeville."

The caucus is seeking hourly wages of $11.53 for employees at this Walmart location, Wilson said. That's the same "living wage" required of companies who do contract work for the city.

Wilson said existing Chicago Walmart locations have been using loopholes to avoid paying higher wages.

"They are supposed to pay their workers $8.75 an hour," he said, "and they're using temp agencies to get out of that to pay $8.25 an hour."

Erica Jones, senior manager of communications at Walmart, said in an email that Walmart's Neighborhood Market at 47th and Cottage Grove Avenue is on track to open in summer 2014 and will employ over 100 people in a mix of full and part-time positions.

Jones declined to comment on Walmart's wages or use of temp services.

Wilson's caucus is calling on City Council to audit existing Chicago Walmart locations to determine how many people from these communities actually work in the stores and how much they are paid.

Walmart is being pushed to the black community as something that will bring jobs for residents, Wilson said. If Bronzeville residents are not going to benefit from these jobs because Walmart found loopholes around living wages and local hiring, "then do we really want them here?" he said.

There were no Walmarts in the black community until recently, Wilson pointed out. The company has saturated the suburbs and must expand into cities and into the black community because these are the untapped markets, he said.

It would be great to have Walmart in Bronzeville, but the community has been getting by without it for a long time, Wilson said.

"They need us more than we need them," he said. "The days are gone when people can come just to take money from us. If they come, they need to come in a way that is a good community partner."

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