CHICAGO – Brushing aside warnings from Wal-Mart, the City Council approved an ordinance Wednesday that makes Chicago the biggest city in the nation to require big-box retailers to pay a "living wage."
"It's trying to get the largest companies in America to pay decent wages," said Alderman Toni Preckwinkle.
The ordinance passed 35-14 after three hours of impassioned debate.
The measure requires mega-retailers with over $1 billion in annual sales and stores of at least 90,000 square feet to pay workers at least $10 an hour in wages plus $3 in fringe benefits by mid-2010. The current minimum wage in Illinois is $6.50 an hour and the federal minimum is $5.15.
Mayor Richard M. Daley and others warned the living wage proposal would drive jobs and desperately needed development from some of the city's poorest neighborhoods and lead giants like Wal-Mart to abandon the city.
Wal-Mart spokesman John Bisio said earlier that if the measure passed, "We'd redirect our focus on our suburban strategy and see how we could better serve our city of Chicago residents from suburban Chicagoland."
Chicago has been at the center of the debate about the wages at big retailers ever since the city's rejection of a proposal by Wal-Mart to open a store on the South Side prompted the company to open a store just outside the city limits.
The first Wal-Mart in Chicago itself is set to open in September, and the Bentonville, Ark.-based company has more than 40 other stores within 50 miles of the city.
Wal-Mart said that its average hourly wage is almost $11 an hour in the Chicago area and that the lowest wage that will be paid at the new West Side store will be $7.25 an hour.