Wal-Mart and Target can afford to pay workers a living wage

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James Thindwa, One View

Mr. Dean, responsible journalism should have led you to balance your July 19 "Enterprise Zone" article with a more studied analysis of pro-Big Box Living Wage arguments. Instead, you talked only about labor's opposition, based on Wal-Mart's low wages. Your piece was disconcerting in its gaps and omissions. I'd like to direct your attention to the following gaps in it:

You do not mention the exorbitant salaries paid to CEOs: $45 million, $36 million and $35 million for Target, Home Depot and Wal-Mart, respectively. How can these CEOs seriously contest a $10/hour wage for their employees?

Intentionally or not, you omit the fact that Santa Fe has enacted a living wage law. But Wal-Mart is not only staying in Santa Fe, it has applied to build a Super Center there.

You do not question why Chicago city officials are not offended that companies that get big tax subsidies ($10 million for Target) would threaten to leave the city because they don't want to pay $10 per hour. Where is the reciprocity and respect?

You do not consider the fact that Chicago consumers have given Target its most profitable store in the country. Why is it unreasonable to expect this company to pay back the city by paying a living wage to workers?

You do not question why these companies cannot afford to pay a living wage right here in Chicago when Costco pays a living wage and covers most health care costs for its workers. If Costco can do it, why can't Target and Wal-Mart?

You skip over a big reason there is a frenzy to build Big Box stores in Chicago: Wal-Mart has exhausted small towns and is reaching saturation in the suburbs. In order to maintain current growth levels, it needs to enter the big cities. The very fact that company officials are fighting so hard to stop this ordinance confirms their need to enter Chicago.

You uncritically indulge Alderman Emma Mitts' invocation of racism without wondering why she is content with Costco paying a living wage in a white neighborhood but makes no such demands for Wal-Mart on the West Side. Furthermore, you make no mention of the fact that black people themselves (90 percent) want a living wage requirement for Big Box stores. Why? They know Wal-Mart can afford it, and that neither it nor Target is going to leave Chicago. As I write this letter, Wal-Mart has announced wholesale pay increases in several markets. Just last week, it couldn't afford to pay a living wage in Chicago.

I hope you will ask some hard questions about this apparent contradiction. Wal-Mart and Target are issuing empty threats. But I must say it is reassuring that average people seem to "get it" while Emma Mitts and a minority of aldermen and black ministers seem hell-bent to roll out the red carpet without any demand for accountability.

James Thindwa is executive director of Chicago Jobs With Justice.

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