Acknowledging "The black communities of Chicago do need economic development," the nine pastors write that "This can also be achieved by raising the standard of living of the current residents within the community.”
“If a store pays higher wages, those residents earn more and can do more,” the pastors say in the letter advocating an agreement with Wal-Mart if the company wants to build a Bronzeville location.
Wal-Mart has not confirmed that it is interested in Bronzeville, but the city’s Department of Housing and Economic Development said there are conversations about the retailer opening a location at East Pershing Road and South State Street.
“We need to get out ahead of this thing,” said Roderick Wilson, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center and a spokesman for the caucus of Bronzeville pastors.
A representative from Wal-Mart was not immediately available to respond.
The pastors, including the Rev. Michelle Taylor Sanders of Hartzell Memorial United Methodist Church and the Rev. Robert Jones of Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, are asking the retailer to pay the same "living wage" — $11.53 an hour — required of companies doing city contract work. They also are asking that Wal-Mart hire from the area.
“Before we open our arms to Wal-Mart, let them live up to that standard, because they have the means to do so,” Wilson said.
Earlier efforts to make Wal-Mart pay a living wage was vetoed by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. But the company reportedly agreed to pay above minimum wage and hire from within the area when it opened its first Chicago store, in the Austin neighborhood, in 2006.
Wilson and the group of pastors are asking for an audit to determine whether Wal-Mart has lived up to that agreement before the retailer expands into the Bronzeville neighborhood.
A recent Reuters survey of Wal-Marts across the country found that the stores were increasingly hiring temporary workers on 180-day contracts, which pay the same hourly rate as regular workers but trim labor costs by reducing benefits.
“We need to look at if the community is really benefiting from this,” Wilson said. “If those things are happening, is something really better than nothing?”
Others signing the letter were:
The Rev. Michael Hodges, Beersheba MB Church; the Rev. Jimmie Hodges, New Covenant Gospel Tabernacle Church; the Rev. Curlee Adams, St. Paul CME Church; the Rev. Jeff Campbell, Judah Israelite Christian Church; the Rev. Willie Gholston, Bethel AME Church; Minister Kathryn Creswell, Progressive Community Church and the Rev. Robert Robinson, Second Faith Temple Community Outreach.