Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Chicago big-box battle fizzles for labor

Organized labor, specifically the Chicago Federation of Labor and the Service Employees International Union, made its presence known in the recently concluded first round of municipal elections in Chicago.

The local media for some reason thinks labor toppled longtime 42nd Ward Aldeman Burton Natarus. Naturus voted against the big-box "living wage" ordinance, and the unions sent foot-soldiers to the 42nd Ward. Nothing could be further from the truth.

His opponent, Brendan Reilly, on his web site explains that he also opposed the big-box wage bill.

And let's talk about the ward. For most people, the 42nd Ward is Chicago. The Loop and the glamorous Gold Coast are in the ward. With the notable exception of WGN-TV, almost all of the local media--and the out-of-town Chicago news bureaus--can be found in the 42nd Ward. Chicago's theater district and most major department stores are there too.

The ward is dominated by high-rise apartments and condominiums--just try to attempt door-to-door canvassing there. Think Midtown Manhattan, and you've got a pretty good idea of the 42nd.

Union membership among 42nd Ward must be negligible.

Natarus lost for a number of reasons. He has a clownish nature--he once proposed that horses in his ward wear diapers. There are a lot of new high rises that have gone up in his ward--so Natarus faced a lot of new voters. And many of those new buildings blocked the lakefront views of older high-rises. Who are the voters going to blame? The alderman. The parking situation in Natarus' ward has gone from awful to intolerable.

A couple of union targeted aldermen will face run offs in April, but two of them came very close to reaching the needed 50 percent that would've avoided that.

However, Alderman Shirley Coleman of the South Side's 16th Ward--who voted for the wage bill, but voted not to override Daley's veto--will face a run-off, but she finished a distant second to her opponent. She's in big trouble.

Who else is facing a run off? Oh, the brains behind that big-box "living wage" bill, my old aldermen, Joe Moore. He got a little more than 49 percent of the vote in his 49th Ward, so he'll face Don Gordon in April.

Tuesday was not a great day for organized labor. The big-boxes, Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot have reasons to celebrate. As do Chicago consumers.

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