Shortly after the Chicago City Council voted in favor of the so-called “Big Box” living-wage ordinance, supporters flooded the hallways outside of City Council chambers, with many cheering and others crying.

The 35-14 vote was seen as a victory for working men and women in low-income communities, some said shortly after the vote.

Large retailers such as Wal-Mart, which will open a store in Austin in September, will be required to pay $10 in hourly wages and $3 in benefits to employees working up to 10 hours a day. Stores with 90,000 square feet of store space, including Target, Home Depot and Sears, will fall under the ordinance.

The council debated the controversial ordinance for nearly six hours with a final vote coming shortly before 4 o’clock Wednesday afternoon. 

“It’s a phenomenal victory for the little people of Chicago,” said Bill “Doc” Walls, who will run against Mayor Daley in next year’s election, adding that this vote was major defeat for the mayor. Walls said he would make Wednesday’s vote a major issue in next year’s campaign.

“It’s an opportunity to say to the Wal-Marts of the world that you’re not going to come in here and take advantage of people just because they’re desperate for jobs,” said Walls.

Toni Foulkes, chair of the West Englewood Chapter of ACORN, one the community groups that strongly backed the ordinance, said people across the country were looking at Chicago Wednesday.

“We have to keep in mind that across the United States, these Big Box stores have basically saturated the suburban areas–where are they going to go except into the inner cities?” she said.
Foulkes added that the group early on in the fight over the ordinance gave their support to aldermen who were willing to back the measure.

“That’s why there was so much momentum behind this,” she said. “I told them when we first started this: ‘You all are the biggest and baddest politicians in the United States–don’t let them punk you.'”

After the vote, supporters streaming into a hallway outside of City Hall’s second floor chambers chanted, sang and some even danced.
Ald. Joe Moore (49th), chief sponsor of the ordinance, emerged to cheers from supporters. Moore said the vote would impact other cities, many of which are considering enacting a similar living-wage ordinance.

“It was a very good day for the working men and women of Chicago, and it was a very good day, quite frankly, for working men and women throughout this nation,” he said.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), who previously opposed and voted against the ordinance, said Thursday that she was disappointed by Wednesday’s vote.

Mitts said the 35 aldermen who voted for the ordinance actually voted against a model of working with large retailers such as Wal-Mart.
She said opponents would now look at the constitutionality of the ordinance. Mitts and others argued that the federal government rather than local governments should impose any living wages.

“I don’t think they really cared about the model,” Mitts said of her colleagues who voted yes. “I think it was a vote for the unions and out of fear because the unions have said they would run candidates against those who opposed the ordinance. I have been told that they would have a candidate to run against me in the next election. I guess the message was sent to me.”
Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th) also voted against the ordinance.

Fellow West Side aldermen Ed Smith (28th), Walter Burnett (27th) and Michael Chandler (24th) voted in favor of it.

“I supported Wal-Mart coming into Ald. Mitts’ ward because the community needed jobs,” Burnett said Thursday, “but just because we support someone coming into the community doesn’t mean that we should accept whatever they give us. This is just one of those things where our community is torn, but I have to do what I feel is right.”

During the six-hour debate, Ald. Smith pointed out that Wal-Mart’s CEO and other CEOs of large retailers were earning millions of dollars a year in salaries while many of their workers were barely getting by on less than $10 an hour.

“We have these little people who work for these big companies that just treat them like dirt,” he said. “When you have a CEO making $35 million a year–$16,000 an hour–and his little old lady is trying her best to survive, how can I go back and tell that little old lady that I want you to still make $7.70 an hour? I couldn’t live with myself, so I voted for it because it was the right thing to do.”