Sunday, July 23, 2006

Big-box ordinance would hurt blacks who need jobs

I've been trying to find a way to discuss the debate with regards to Wal-Mart other than using my own small knowledge of Economics and merely regurgitating what I've heard especially if it makes sense to me. Then I've heard tidbits here and there on cable access. The calls were either in agreement or not in agreement with Wal-Mart coming into the black community.

There are those who complained that Wal-Mart doesn't pay enough. There are those who claim Wal-Mart are nothing but some slave masters paying slave wages. Then there are those who say that disadvantaged communities will need these opportunities in such communities. No doubt opinions are all over the place.

Then I see Mary Mitchell's column this morning. She starts off by talking about the unions, who seem to hate Wal-Mart with a passion (that I've never understood)...

If City Council goes ahead and passes the "big-box" ordinance, it would show a couple of things. The first, of course, is that despite bad schools, the lack of black faces on construction sites and double-digit unemployment rates in black neighborhoods, unions still have a firm grip on this town
She talks about the proposed ordinance which requires by July 1, 2010 that superstores such as Wal-Mart and Target to pay their employees $10/hour and $3 in benefits. But Mitchell notes...
But underneath the feel-good rhetoric about all those poor black folks needing to make a living wage, the real battle with Wal-Mart is between the superstore and unions that are trying to organize its workers.

That's reason enough for union members to want to stick it to Wal-Mart. But what about the thousands of black people who are stuck in the unemployment line?

I put that question to the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church because, quite frankly, I was surprised he was supporting this ordinance.

"We need to have jobs where people can work and still not be in poverty," he told me. "Wal-Mart has billions of dollars in profits. You should share your profits with your workers. I'm totally against this craziness that any job is better than no job."
But then she has a take about what having a job at Wal-Mart is really all about...

What other company is going to hire a black person who has dropped out of high school and is basically unskilled and lacks job training? In the old days, an unskilled worker could go to a manufacturing company or to the steel mills and work his or her way up from the assembly line.

But those jobs are long gone.

That's why parents are pushing and pulling their kids through high school, and then piling on debt to get them through college. We know firsthand that an entry-level job at Wal-Mart isn't going to pay much. And, after all, who really wants their kid to end up living a minimum-wage life.

Yet despite our warnings, kids do drop out of school. And people get divorced; spouses die; retirees sometimes are forced to go back to work. When life takes these twists and turns, we can at least thank God for Wal-Mart.

Second, passage of the big-box ordinance would make poor people the sacrificial lambs in this battle. Look around your neighborhood: Who's working in the small shops? It's certainly not black people.

So suppose the superstores fold up their blueprints. What then?

"If this ordinance is successful, the unions would have carried the day temporarily," said Eugene Morris, CEO and Chairman of E. Morris Communications. "But at what cost? The cost is not being paid by the aldermen, who can shop where they want. The cost is being paid by poor people who have to go miles to get to a decent store."
And here's something I didn't know, Wal-Mart is actually good to black owned contractors. We just met one of them in that last quote Eugene Morris, but who else...

Morris' company has done business with Wal-Mart for the past 14 years. A member of the Alliance of Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs, the African-American-owned advertising agency is one of many companies that has benefitted from Wal-Mart's investment in the black community.

Other black-owned companies doing business with Wal-Mart include Ariel Capital Management, which manages Wal-Mart's 401(k) plan, and Margaret Garner, the owner of Broadway Consolidated Construction, the first and only African-American female-owned firm to build a Wal-Mart store.

Alliance members do more business with Wal-Mart than any other company, Morris told me.

"We do about $300 million in business transactions," he said. "Here is a company that has demonstrated that they will hire people from the community, will do business with people within the community, and we are going to keep them out?" he asked.

If black aldermen are ignoring this dynamic, then they are serving their communities with blinders on.

In its June issue, DiversityInc magazine named Wal-Mart No. 6 among its "Top 10 Companies for African Americans" based on the company's "recruiting at [historically black colleges and universities] and professional organizations, investing in black-owned businesses, building community relationships through philanthropy and leadership roles in black organizations and marketing directly to African Americans."
Now while Mitchell supports a living wage she says that this proposal will only serve to hurt those communities that may not be able to survive the damgage that may be cause by this ordinance. I'm very inclined to agree. The struggling black communities in the city needs some type of economic engine. The argument won't fly if the concern is for mom and pop stores why because there aren't many such shops in the black community. Those callers on cable access who complain about Wal-Mart not paying enough or calling Wal-Mart slave masters probably wouldn't take a job if one was staring at them in the face.

I close this post with Mary's challenge to those blacks sitting on the city council...
The only reason I can think of for black aldermen to vote for this ordinance is that they've forgotten it wasn't the insiders, but the outsiders that sent them to City Council.
Crossposted @ Illinoize

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