Thursday, April 3, 2008

Is It Really About Labor Ready?

This was submitted by an Uptown Update reader:

As I was driving along North Avenue in Oak Park, I was looking at the store fronts along the busy corridor and much to my surprise, I saw a sign for Labor Ready. I quickly snapped the a photo with my camera phone as I was passing. It was around 5:30 in the evening, so the office looked like it was closed for the day. While the signage and building was nothing special, what struck me was the business located next door - an Edward Jones Investments office. In terms of businesses, Labor Ready and Edward Jones attract people at the opposite ends of the income spectrum. I was shocked to see these two businesses next door to each other, along a busy thoroughfare on the Chicago-Oak Park border. This certainly is not a blighted area.

During the rest of my drive back to my home in Uptown, I began to reflect on the recent controversy with Labor Ready in Uptown. Would Labor Ready really be a bad neighbor? Would it prevent future progress from happening on in the Sheridan corridor in Uptown? Why have residents taken this issue so passionately versus many of the other issues going on in the neighborhood?

There is a valid argument for why Labor Ready would be an acceptable business in Uptown. It would provide another source of possible income and albeit temporary employment for a segment of our community that seeks employment. It would fill a vacant storefront. And I think that in theory, we would all agree that an occupied storefront is better than vacant one. Is the location perfect? No. Is the clientele the business attracts good for surrounding businesses? Likely no, but clearly in a community as diverse as ours, and similar to Oak Park, diverse businesses can succeed located adjacent to each other.

Do neighbors have valid concerns? Absolutely! When you call your Alderman’s office and are told that your concerns are based on myths and lies and are yelled at by a member of the Alderman’s staff, you get angry. When the Alderman refuses to listen to community concerns, you wonder if you have any say in what happens in your neighborhood.

Why didn’t Alderman Shiller meet with concerned residents and neighbors and work together to create covenants to require Labor Ready to meet in order to obtain zoning approval?. Why were neighbors, desperate for information, surprised with the proposed regulations at the Board of Zoning Appeals Meeting? Why did Alderman Shiller lie about the support for Labor Ready? Because she is completely out of touch with her constituents and refuses to listen to opinions that she doesn’t share.

Labor Ready likely won't hurt the neighborhood. Alderman Shiller and her antics have, and neighbors will not forget her selfish and arrogant approach. You may not agree with me on the Labor Ready issue, but I think we can all agree that the lack of respect for the concerns of impacted neighbors is appalling.


  1. How far is a school ( public or private) away from this location?
    Is there a YMCA or Boys and Girls club near here?

  2. "Labor Ready likely won't hurt the neighborhood."

    Wow. We don't know where to begin, Uptown Update. The amount of space you have given to this argument is startling. The comparison is unfair.

    Just for starters, Labor Ready did not need to get a zoning exception in order to go into that Oak Park location. It is not in the middle of a mixed-use residential area with a close concentration of schools, senior citizens homes and a park. It is not located on the dividing line between two rival gangs. It is not on the opposite end of a hospital which a recent UU reader noted receives the violently mentally ill from other areas of the city and then releases them into our parks and does not provide services to get them back to where they came from. Labor Ready's branches vary according to the communities in which they exist. We shouldn't expect the Uptown branch to look like Oak Park's because Uptown is not Oak Park. Uptown is Uptown and any reasonable person should assume that their branch would be most likely to be characterized by Uptown's qualities and not by Oak Park's.

  3. You can check via Google maps that there are three elementary schools within three blocks of the Labor Ready office in Oak Park. A public park is less than two blocks away. A senior citizens home is less than two blocks away.

    Once again, Uptown Update is here to provide various perspectives on issues, not to promote one view or another.

  4. "Labor Ready ... would provide another source of possible income and albeit temporary employment for a segment of our community that seeks employment."

    the "a below-subsistence job is better than no job at all" theory, familiar from the Wal-Mart debates

  5. Correct, cub reporter. However, 2 & 3 blocks away is not the same thing as across the street from a HUD building with a high concentration of senior citizens and a Boys & Girls Club.

    I think what the author of this piece fails to acknowledge is that there multiple issues with the appropriateness of this location and that, in total, they amount to a poor outcome for the immediate surrounding neighborhood.

    I expect that you will now be calling Edward Jones to open up their first office in Uptown next to Labor Ready? These things don't happen by natural evolution, you know. There would need to be a larger base of high net worth investors within the immediate vicinity. There actually are some but the conditions for critical mass will not improve when amenities like thriving public schools and clean safe parks don't exist for residents.

  6. "Labor Ready ... would fill a vacant storefront. And I think that in theory, we would all agree that an occupied storefront is better than vacant one."

    I think there is far from universal agreement on that point

    when you live near it, it's easy to think of all sorts of things worse than a vacant storefront

  7. You are absolutely correct, Hugh. Infrequent access to low daily wages is not the same thing as a job. No doubt the City needs improved job rehabilitation services and more resources for people. But why not improve the city-sponsored "one-stop job center" a mere ONE BLOCK SOUTH of Labor Ready's location. Why are we spending all of that money on that center if they can't help people get jobs?

  8. "we would all agree that an occupied storefront is better than vacant one."

    No. We have standards. We have a vision for this community. Check out "Corridors of Vision" and what we wanted to have there. Labor Ready does not fit with that vision. And, there are currently no problems with that empty storefront in terms of vandalism and loitering. But young kids spend time on the steps of the Boys and Girls Club after school. Why would responsible adults want to add a number of unknown adults to that mix when it currently isn't a problem that we have to deal with?

  9. If you know very much about Edward Jones and Labor Ready, you wouldn't come to the conclusion that they are wholly incompatible businesses for a business strip in Oak Park. For example, Labor Ready does place people who are employed and want to pick up a second shift or some weekend hours. This is an aspect of their business in addition to placing people in really low-end work like cleaning up after festivals and such. Edward Jones is a storefront investment firm which caters to individuals. In this day and age even people of relatively modest means have brokerage accounts with maybe $20-$40,000 in them.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that Oak Park does have people with blue collar jobs who might want to pick up some work from time to time. Oak Park also has middle class/lower middle class people with some financial assets and a need for financial planning services. Contrary to what the author of this piece thinks and what anon 11:27 indicated, this is not a case of two very opposite kinds of businesses. High net worth people don't go to Edward Jones for the most part. Labor Ready probably places a fair amount of steadily employed blue collar workers out of the Oak Park office. For Oak Park, this is consistent use. But that doesn't mean that what is going on in Oak Park is anything like what is likely to be going on here. It will probably be a different mix of types of businesses that they will place people in.

  10. Correction to anon 1:20 p.m. - According to Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Edward Jones clients have an average income of $54,000 and a net worth of $383,000. The average account size is $104,000.

    And, similar to Uptown, Oak Park has a concentration of people in poverty (without the same centralization of services as we have in Uptown) as well as a segment of wealthy individuals. But, Oak Park does have a higher per capital income than Uptown.

  11. Thanks for getting more of the data, Cub. But you have proven my point. Depending on family size, etc., $54,000 puts a household squarely in the middle income range. These are not high net worth investors. They are probably just average middle class folks with the majority of their net worth in their homes and about $100,000 in invested assets. Unless they are young and have $100,000 in invested assets, Edward Jones clients are made up of profoundly middle class folks.

    Did you find the average age of the investors?

    Edward Jones is not wholly incompatible with Labor Ready. Both can fit with a blue-collar/middle class area and be considered compatible uses. Uptown is different in lots of ways.

  12. Does anyone seriously believe there's any meaningful carryover between Edward Jones' customers and Labor Ready day laborers? This is the most ludicrous idea I've heard in awhile. The majority of day laborers don't have health insurance, let alone a diversified portfolio! Get real.

    That said, I wouldn't be shocked to find out 12 months from now that the reality of labor ready's presence ends up being a big snoozefest. The guys waiting in line for a regulated day labor job are not the same kind of guys hanging out in front of the Uhaul.

  13. Underneath that thicket of points about income and net worth, what I really want to say is that Labor Ready branches vary across the country. In Oak Park, they probably send people out for a lot of construction and light industrial jobs. Blue collar workers who live in the area probably go there when their hours get cut back and such. They use it to fill in gaps. There is a solid base of blue collar & middle income households in that area. How the Labor Ready branch is in Oak Park isn't an accurate gage for how they will be here.

    We don't just don't have that blue collar household base around here because we have lost a lot of the affordable rental units to condo development. There are few places where a market rate renting family can live in Uptown. There are few little bungalows of which Oak Park has many. In Uptown you've got young people living alone or in couples (some who make sizeable incomes and others who don't), you've got mature adult couples living without kids, you've got poor families living in subsidized housing and elderly poor people living in subsidized housing. The remaining families are middle-to-upper income families who can afford to live here and send their kids to private schools.

    Unfortunately, there are a number of people who can't get regular work and they will go to Labor Ready. They will do construction, landscaping and hospitality work for low wages. They will need to rely on the subsidized housing, healthcare and food banks we have here in order to continue to get by. Its just apples & oranges...apples & oranges...

  14. "The guys waiting in line for a regulated day labor job are not the same kind of guys hanging out in front of the Uhaul."

    Right. If no one stiffs them they can make more money.

  15. "Does anyone seriously believe there's any meaningful carryover between Edward Jones' customers and Labor Ready day laborers?"

    No one thinks that. But they shouldn't think that a business for rich people is happily coexisting with a business for poor people. In the case of Oak Park, they are there because there is a solid middle class base which ranges from lower-middle class residents who are struggling to middle class residents who have a bit of money. Mixed in with that are some pretty rich people living nearby and some pretty poor people living nearby. That is just not Uptown. We've got more of the two ends but not as much of the middle.

  16. These labor "services" are a disgrace. The workers are exploited on many levels. The service often takes up to 50% of the wages and require the workers to cash their checks at the service--for a fee. Why do you think these low lifes get into the business? To help the workers?

  17. To anon 6:56 p.m: G-d bless you! After over 3 months of shouting to the rooftops about everyone's right to work in dignity, I finally hear a voice that echoes my refrain! Thank you! Thank you!

  18. I think everyone missed the point of the story. Which is, our Alderwoman's ways of doing business is as shady as the Wilsom Club Hotel.

  19. "I think everyone missed the point of the story."

    No. I got that part and agree with it. This whole thing was a particularly egregious example of the regular state of affairs around here. However, that does not make it not about Labor Ready. Labor Ready is the wrong "solution" in the wrong location. It won't meaningfully help the people who need to be helped, it will bring unknown adults into an area with a lot of children and which does not currently have a loitering problem, it will make it harder to fill the empty commercial space and it will likely bring further congestion (pedestrian & vehicular) with few benefits for residents in the immediate area.

    When you say it is not about Labor Ready you are belittling our specific concerns and making it about not having a voice. It is so much more than "nobody listened to us." The issues are real.

  20. While I know the issues are real, it doesn't do any good to just vent about it when it becomes too late due to behind the scenes actions by our alderwoman. Same can be said for a number of other issues that by the time we are asked for our opinion as a community, the plans have already been completed.