Thursday, May 6, 2010

A DAY IN THE LIFE (of Chicago): Will Wal-mart come to Chicago after all?

I was once in a store in the area where the Lincoln Park and Lake View neighborhoods come together when I overheard a person ask a store clerk where the local Wal-mart store was located.

The response from that particular store clerk was a semi-snotty one about how there were no Wal-marts anywhere near the area, since such stores didn’t “fit in” with the surrounding community.

WHILE I PERSONALLY do not care much for the ambiance of a Wal-mart (but my mother does), the reason I could consider that answer out of line was that this particular store was a Borders books. I’m sure there are those people who would consider that chain to have killed off independent bookstores and “ruined” the urban atmosphere just like they’ll claim Wal-mart will do if they manage to get their stores within the city limits.

So my concerns about Wal-mart aren’t along any cultural line. I can appreciate that certain neighborhoods don’t have much in the way of retail, and they would attract customers who don’t have much else in the way of shopping alternatives.

The problem with the whole Wal-mart debate, however, is that people are too eager to use that argument to get around the legitimate concerns about how they have treated their employees.

Last year, a Chicago public relations firm literally called every single residence in the city phone book, and came up with a statistic saying that three-quarters of those surveyed want the retailer within Chicago’s boundaries.

WHICH IS WHY I was glad to learn that Wal-mart is actually negotiating with the labor unions that likely would wind up trying to represent any workers at those stores. Those negotiations are being taken seriously enough that a City Council committee postponed its vote Wednesday on the Wal-mart question.

Now, we’re looking at a hearing at City Hall on June 3 where the city’s political people could be asked what to do with the Arkansas-based retailer. So we get a month to see how bad Wal-mart wants to be in Chicago. Will they agree to the above-minimum-wage that the unions want Wal-mart workers in Chicago to receive?

Considering that such an act could cut into the potential for profitability of any Chicago stores, it will be a true test of their sincerity. If Wal-mart winds up making some concessions in order to get into Chicago, our political people might wind up looking good for not giving in too quickly to the retailer – which has hinted it would like to have up to five of its stores scattered across Chicago.

What else was noteworthy about the view of the world from the southwestern shores of Lake Michigan?

FROM McCORMICK PLACE TO IMMIGRATION REFORM: Juan Ochoa has spent the past three years running the government agency that oversees McCormick Place and Navy Pier. Now, he wants to be at the forefront of the political fight over reforming the nation’s immigration laws.

Ochoa resigned as CEO of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, saying he’d like to find work with an organization that will allow him to be involved in the politicking that will take place in coming years to get changes in federal law that make it easier for people already in this country without a valid visa to remain.

He used to work for the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, although it is not likely that organization would want to get too much at the forefront of this particular issue.

Not that this move is all too altruistic. The General Assembly is considering changes in the state laws that regulate the agency, and the Chicago Tribune reported that if they get approved, then Ochoa likely would have been released from his job – to which he was appointed by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

LET’S GO, GO-GO WHITE SOX, FAR FROM ARIZONA: Should the fact that the Chicago White Sox play in a stadium owned by Illinois government make it illegal for them to hold spring training camp in Arizona?

State Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, said Wednesday he does not think businesses being subsidized by Illinois government should be contributing to the Arizona economy – on account of the fact that state passed a new law requiring local police to engage in vigorous enforcement of federal immigration laws.

I don’t mind Sandoval making a statement against Arizona’s conduct. I don’t even mind him suggesting that the White Sox would have been better off staying in Florida (they used to have training camp in Sarasota until White Sox owner (and Arizona resident) Jerry Reinsdorf relocated the operation.

I just find it ridiculous that the state thinks it can now bark out orders and expect the White Sox to listen. After all, the team’s lease with the state gives the White Sox virtually all the financial perks while the state has the financial obligation to maintain the building. The state lost the high ground in this area a long time ago.


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