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Councilors say they'll explore a city wage bill

Chicago's plan to hike pay at big retailers is lauded

Two Boston city councilors yesterday said they plan to explore a bill that would force big-box retailers to pay employees more than the Massachusetts minimum wage of $6.75 per hour.

The comments, from councilors Chuck Turner and Felix Arroyo, follow action by the Chicago Board of Alderman, which this week passed an ordinance that would require so-called big-box retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot, to pay $10 an hour by 2010.

The Chicago ordinance, which would apply to merchants that occupy more than 90,000 square feet has been sent to Chicago's mayor, who is opposed to it. Last night, he had not indicated whether he would veto it. Illinois' minimum wage is $6.50.

``Big-box retailers are able to make large amounts of profit in the city," Turner said, ``and any way to increase the wages and benefits for the people who work for them, especially in urban areas, is significant."

Arroyo said yesterday that he planned to reach out to labor groups to gauge their interest and to check with labor lawyers about whether such an ordinance could be instituted in Boston.

``There's no reason why we the City of Boston should accept workers being underpaid," Arroyo said.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino could not be reached for comment.

``This is not a Wal-Mart issue; this is a retailing issue," said Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley . ``It has had for us in Chicago the effect that we are concentrating on a suburban strategy. It would be the same dynamic wherever a measure like this is in effect -- it would push all the sales, jobs, and tax generation outside the city. The effect would be deleterious to the economic well-being of the city."

Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, a coalition of labor and community organizations, has nothing planned, but will look at the idea to see if it could work here, said its executive director, Russ Davis .

Wal-Mart has expressed interest in opening its first store in Boston. Other big-box retailers have already moved into the city, including Home Depot and Target.

Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com.

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