Updated: November 14, 2013 6:44AM
When I saw the news that Dominick’s is pulling up stakes in Chicago, the image that popped into my head was the pink nylon uniform I used to wear working in one of their stores. The one my mother insisted I iron to make sure I looked neatly pressed and presentable.
I was a Dominick’s checkout girl in high school. And worked my way up to the office — right next to the deli counter — where I cashed people’s paychecks and balanced cash drawers.
For a teen, a good-paying union job was a life saver. College would have been out of reach without student loans and paychecks from Dominick’s.
So word that it is shuttering 72 stores in the Chicago area and, with it, more than 6,000 jobs, was a gut punch.
How many of us remember a time when there wasn’t a Dominick’s? Or recall a parent dispatching us to pick up a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread?
Dominick’s was a safe passage long before the term referred to deadly routes to and from school.
The stores will close down just one year before Mayor Rahm Emanuel stands for re-election.
And from the latest fund-raising reports showing the mayor already has $5 million in the bank, it looks as though he will have plenty of cash to counter any blowback from another 6,000 or so good union jobs disappearing.
Now, the mayor isn’t responsible for an economy that has put severe pressure on retailers who have served mostly middle class customers. Sears, J.C. Penney, Marshall Fields, to name just a few.
But the anti-union sentiment that threads so much of the “right-our-economic-ship” rhetoric of today has been fed by Emanuel, who has happily backhanded the Chicago Teacher’s Union and other service industry sectors of organized labor.
Just how unhappy can labor be, the mayor’s team fires back, when $780,000 of that $5 million were contributions from labor unions since the end of June?
Well, there’s labor. And then there’s labor. Most of Emanuel’s union money comes from a very small, male-dominated trade sector of highly paid craftsman. The far larger part of organized labor is made up of teachers, janitors, health, retail and government workers. A big percentage are women and minorities.
And they are taking a huge hit right now.
It is leading to a wider gap between the haves and have-nots, argues Northeastern University economist Ed Stuart.
“In contrast, in the 1950s and 60s, every group’s income level was growing,” he said. Now Stuart argues, “Too many people can no longer afford middle-class grocery prices.”
The battle then becomes one between those who shop at Whole Foods vs. those who go to Wal-Mart.
“Even people with decent incomes are afraid to spend,” said Smith, “fearful of losing their jobs.”
And so stores like Dominick’s join the big losers.
As do the people who count on a Dominick’s paycheck to pay the mortgage or help a kid get to college.
People like me.
Dominick’s was a jewel of a job.