Faced with threats of boycotts by both Target and Wal-Mart, Chicago backed away from a plan that would have mandated a “living wage” for employees of big-box stores. In late September, the City Council voted to sustain Mayor Richard M. Daley's Sept. 11 veto of legislation that would force companies that have more than $1 billion in annual revenue and operate stores larger than 90,000 square feet in Chicago to pay employees at least $13 an hour in wages and benefits by 2010.
But while the veto is a setback for the union-backed effort to force non-union big-box retailers to provide higher compensation, the movement is not dead. As big-box retailers continue to target urban markets for growth, the fight may be replayed again and again, according to Annette Bernhardt, deputy director of the poverty program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
Wal-Mart has faced stiff opposition from both the New York City Council and community groups such as Wal-Mart Watch in its on-again/off-again search for a New York foothold. Overall, 140 municipalities have already adopted such laws, according to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. But Chicago is the first to consider a ban specifically targeting big-box retailers.