Month: November 2014

Black Friday Strikes Again: The High Cost of Wal-Mart’s Low Prices


Wal-MartCustomers shop during Black Friday promotions at a Wal-Mart store in Bentonville, Arkansas. Caption by Bloomberg. Photo by Gunnar Rathbun for Invision/AP.

Is Wal-Mart finally responding to its workers’ frustrations?

Friday, November 28, 2014 || Originally Published by Bloomberg Businessweek || Susan Berfield 

Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) workers and activists have a new holiday tradition: On the busiest shopping day of the year, they stage protests against the biggest retailer in the country. For the past two years, OUR Walmart, a union-backed group of employees, has used Black Friday in particular as a time to call for higher wages, more consistent full-time work, and respect on the job. Wal-Mart, which employs more people than any other U.S. company, argues that the protests and walkouts are mere media spectacles involving a few protesters who don’t speak for most of its 1.3 million workers.

Yet in some ways, Wal-Mart has improved its treatment of employees over the past two years. Just don’t expect the company to credit the protesters.

Workers in the retail and fast-food industries have spoken about how hard it is to get by on low wages, especially when they can’t work as much as they would like. A Congressional report, “The Low-Wage Drag on our Economy,” criticized Wal-Mart for relying on public assistance to help its employees make ends meet. Barry Ritholtz, a Bloomberg View columnist, called Wal-Mart a welfare queen, and he wasn’t the only one. Wal-Mart’s program, Access to Open Shifts, which was introduced this spring, seems to address some of these concerns. It lets workers browse the company’s scheduling system for available shifts, even in different departments. If workers want more hours, they should be able to get them.

Was this a response to the protests? That would be an ”inaccurate” characterization, Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg told the Huffington Post. “Our associates are the best generators of ideas,” he explained. “They’ve been telling us they want to know what opportunities are there in the store. This is one way to bring a little more transparency to the folks in the store to see what’s available.” Wal-Mart, which isn’t having a great year financially, has also admitted that it needs more store employees to keep shelves stocked and checkout lines short.

The retailer also came under pressure to change its policies regarding pregnant employees this year. The National Women’s Law Center filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission on behalf of a pregnant employee whose supervisor refused to relieve her of duties that included climbing ladders with heavy boxes. Then two Wal-Mart shareholders—employees who are members of OUR Walmart—filed a proposal with the Securities and Exchange Commission requesting that the policy be changed.

Wal-Mart adopted new rules this spring. “Our policy goes above and beyond what the law requires, it is best in class, and it exceeds what other retailers are doing,” Randy Hargrove, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said at the time. When asked to explain the changes, he said it was “the right thing to do for our associates” and allowed that the “shareholder resolution bought more attention to the issue.”

Of course, the biggest issue for workers is their pay. The rallying cry now is $15 an hour. Wal-Mart says the average wage for a full-time associate in its U.S. stores is$12.94 an hour and describes the majority of its workers as full-time (without offering more precise information). Last year, however, about half of Wal-Mart associates made less than $25,000. Come January, Wal-Mart will no longer offerhealth insurance to employees who work less than an average of 30 hours a week, affecting some 30,000 people. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s because three years ago the retailer cut health benefits for part-timers who work less than 24 hours a week.

So any good news when it comes to wages? Well, Wal-Mart’s new-ish chief executive, Doug McMillon, did say that one day the company would like to pay all its employees more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. “It is our intention over time that we will be in a situation where we don’t pay minimum wage at all,” he said in October, while also noting that only about 6,000 current employees are paid the minimum. McMillon called the store employees Wal-Mart’s “secret sauce.” And he said: “We have to set up our associates to win. They need us to get some things done so they can.”

Organizers have promised that this year’s protests will be the biggest so far. Wal-Mart remains dismissive: “Perception is not reality in this case,” said Brooke Buchanan, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. As the protests focus their efforts on Black Friday, the pace of change at Wal-Mart can’t easily be measured by a single day. VFP

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Rep. Welch Urges Holiday Shoppers to Support Locally Owned Business Tomorrow During Small Business Saturday

Cook County Recorder of DeedsChris Welch Small BusinessWelch at a small business in Proviso Township. Photo by Rep. Welch. 

Friday, November 28, 2014 || By COMMUNITY EDITOR 

WESTCHESTER, Ill. – In recognition of Small Business Saturday, State Rep. Chris Welch, D-Hillside, is asking holiday shoppers to support locally owned businesses this holiday season. Welch will meet constituents doing holiday shopping on Saturday, during visits to several local businesses.

“Small businesses are critical to our local economy and the key to strengthening our community,” Welch said. “By supporting locally owned businesses this Small Business Saturday, and thinking about local retailers who can meet our shopping needs, we are also investing in our neighborhoods.”

Small Business Saturday is an initiative of the U.S. Small Business Association and Nov. 29 will be its fifth annual event, created to help small businesses compete with big box and online retailers. Welch is visiting several local businesses to highlight the benefits to shopping at area stores that create jobs, support community groups and charities, and keep tax dollars here in Illinois..

Welch will visit the following businesses on Saturday:

Paul’s Hot Dog & Pizza10 a.m.3044 Wolf Rd.

Westchester, IL.

Joe’s Place10:30 a.m.1551 Westchester Blvd.

Westchester, IL.


Ashland Addison Florist Co.

11 a.m.

10034 W. Roosevelt Rd.

Westchester, IL.


Siraaj’s Tru Value11:30 a.m.1815 W. Roosevelt Rd.

Broadview, IL.


Corner Spot Café12 p.m.1825 W. Roosevelt Rd.

Broadview, IL.


Rep. Welch will finish his day at Healy’s Westside Bar & Grill at 7321 West Madison, Forest Park where he will be a part of a Nazareth Academy State Football Championship Watching Party from 12:30pm to 3:30pm.

Rep. Welch serves all or parts of the following communities:  Bellwood, Berkeley, Broadview, Forest Park, Hillside, La Grange Park, Maywood, Melrose Park, Northlake, River Forest, Westchester, and Western Springs.  For more information, visit, or contact Welch’s constituent service office at 708-450-1000 or email VFP

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Al’s Drive-in Re-opens With New Look, Glossier Menu — Same Chuck

Cook County Recorder of DeedsScreenshot 2014-11-25 at 10.33.12 PMChuck is back in his element after Al’s underwent five weeks of renovations. Below, pics of the new and improved Al’s Drive-in. Photos and video by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press.

Screenshot 2014-11-25 at 10.33.52 PMTuesday, November 25, 2014 || By Michael Romain 

MAYWOOD || Less than two months after it caught fire, Al’s Drive-in is back in business. The restaurant re-opened 13 days ago, said the restaurant’s famously outgoing cashier Chuck.

“Thirteen — my lucky number,” he said, smiling, comfortably back in his element after being out of it for the approximately five weeks that the First Avenue restaurant was undergoing renovations.

“The wood that was in here was here since 1955,” Chuck said. “It was old,” he noted, inferring that this may have played a part in the October 5th fire, which started while workers were treating the roof. Chuck said that old wood has now been replaced by sturdier material, although he didn’t specify what.

Customers who have circulated throughout the newly refurbished establishment will see that a few things are different. For one, the entire southern wall of the restaurant, on which once hung the eatery’s expansive menu options, is completely bare. Now, to peruse the items they want to order, customers only have to look at the glossy new laminated slate above their heads.

Although the menu itself hasn’t changed, Chuck said that he and his family have some new ideas for the wall. They plan to to outfit it with Proviso East memorabilia. Chuck named some of the athletes he wants to grace the wall in the short video below.

One thing he was much more certain about, though.

“I’m happy so much.” VFP

Al’s interior before and after the fire.

Screenshot 2014-10-05 at 2.47.19 PMScreenshot 2014-11-25 at 10.33.33 PM

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Two Forest Parkers to Run for Proviso D209 Board

Screenshot 2014-11-25 at 11.14.28 AMForest Parkers Claudia Medina and Nathan “Ned” Wagner announced they will run for Proviso Township High School District 209 school board in the April, 2015 election. Caption by Forest Park Review.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014 || Originally Published: Monday, November 24, 2014 by the Forest Park Review || Jean Lotus, Editor

Two Forest Park residents have thrown their hat into the ring in the April 7, 2015 election for the Proviso Township High School District 209 Board of Education. Three spots are up on the board, with one incumbent deciding not to run.

The candidates are Forest Park Spanish teacher Claudia Medina, and Nathan “Ned” Wagner. Both are parents with children in District 91 schools.

Medina taught for 24 years and runs a Montessori teacher training and consulting business. She designed and runs the Spanish foreign language program for the D91 school district. Wagner supervises an Alzheimer and dementia program at Belmont Village Senior Center in Oak Park.

Monday, Medina posted a quote in Spanish on her Facebook page: “Quien mueve montañas empezó apartando piedrecitas.” (He who moves mountains started by moving little pebbles.)

“I am disheartened by the public high school options available to the children in our district” Medina said. “They are not safe. They are failing academically. The community culture says ‘I give up.’ But I have not. I will not. And I feel obligated to do something about it.”

In a written statement, she added, “The current leadership for the past 12 years has allowed the school(s) to fall into miserable physical and academic conditions. It is well reported that this current leadership runs this district as if it were a family business.

“As a community of people together – 209 Together – we demand change,” she added. “We will be the change. We will all have a voice in the district to create action.”

Ned Wagner said growing up in Park Forest he never even considered that the public high school could not be an option.

“Going to high school wasn’t an issue. Parents didn’t shop for private schools and check the value of their house so they could sell and move into a nicer high school district,” he said. “Every Proviso student should have a safe, academically sound option for high school. It shouldn’t be a crisis. It’s absurd that [the district] is a crisis and I can’t sit here and do nothing.”

The two candidates are both part of a group called “209 Together,” which held an informal meeting, Nov. 2, in Forest Park at the Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor. Roughly 20 Forest Park parents agreed to reach out to all D209 parents to try to find solutions to academic and safety issues at the high schools. The group has a Facebook page called ‘Proviso District 209 Together.’

Brown Cow owner Connie Brown said she was thrilled that “two amazing people have stepped up to take on a huge commitment to better all of our communities for all of us.”

The group will meet again on Tuesday, Dec. 2 at Brian Boru Irish Pub (formerly Molly Malone’s), 7652 Madison St., Forest Park at 7 p.m. A Facebook event has been posted.

Members are reaching out to parents from other feeder communities: Maywood, Bellwood, Berkeley, Broadview, Melrose Park, Westchester, Hillside, Northlake and Stone Park.

Incumbent D209 board member Theresa Kelly confirmed Monday she will be running again. Board member Readith Ester told the Review Monday she will not run, and will be campaigning for the office of Maywood village trustee instead.

Incumbent board Secretary Francine Harrell did not immediately return phone calls Monday regarding her plans. However, her name has appeared on candidate petitions.

Seventh District state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, who served as D209 board president for 12 years, was circulating petitions in Melrose Park recently with Harrell’s name. The petitions also had the names of ShawnTe Raines (Welch’s wife) and Rev. Teddy Matthews, youth minister at Rock of Ages Church in Maywood. VFP

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With Eye Toward Servicing More of Proviso Township, West Cook YMCA Partners with Westlake in Melrose Park

Cook County Recorder of DeedsScreenshot 2014-11-25 at 10.25.38 AMEquipment setup at a cholesterol and blood glucose screening station during Saturday’s family health fair co-hosted by the West Cook YMCA and Westlake Hospital. Below, Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico during the fair. Photos by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press.

Screenshot 2014-11-25 at 10.25.24 AMTuesday, November 25, 2014 || By Michael Romain || Updated: 10:37 PM

MELROSE PARK || Last Saturday, the West Cook YMCA partnered with Westlake Hospital and the Westlake Health Foundation to host a free health screening event at Walter Christian Academy, 900 Chicago Avenue, in Melrose Park.

The event, which targeted residents in Northlake and Proviso Township, was an extension of West Cook’s mission to be a “Y without walls,” according to the Y’s President and CEO Phillip Jimenez.

The West Cook YMCA provides health and wellness programming to ten communities in the western suburbs, including Maywood, Melrose Park, Forest Park and Oak Park.

“The Westlake Foundation has been very philanthropic in the area,” said Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico, who made his way around the various screening stations setup throughout the school’s open space.

“I think this is another example of them coming into our community and being good neighbors, so I’m happy to be here,” he said.

Participants were provided free glucose, bone density, PSA and blood pressure screenings. They were also treated to free workshops on bone health and given information free early head-start programs, among other beneficial wellness services.

“We service [pregnant women and children ages 0 to 3 years old] in the home for 90 minutes,” said Joy Lewis, who works with Presence Health. “It’s kind of like homeschooling and it’s free of charge, so even if there’s no income we still service families.”

Both Westlake and YMCA officials believe that the family health fair is just a step toward a more comprehensive focus on preventative care throughout the western suburbs.

“According to the Cook County Department of Public Health, the Proviso Township area’s health priorities include diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and access to health care services. The leading causes of death for residents of West Suburban Cook County are heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and influenza/pneumonia,” said Marta Alvarado in a statement released by the YMCA.

“This new initiative will focus on increasing awareness about these serious impediments to healthy living and offer educational opportunities to change behaviors to reduce instances of these illnesses and conditions,” said Alvarado, who is the Director of Wellness Programs at Westlake Hospital.

“People need preventative care and the purpose of this for us is to educate people,” said Karen Montiel, Community Health Coordinator at Westlake. “We’re in a diverse, multi-ethnic community in Proviso Township and there’s a need for this kind of outreach.”

The collaboration between West Cook and Westlake is funded by a $479,000 grant spread over three years. During that time, residents in Northlake and Proviso Township will be invited to various health screenings, assessments and health education programs facilitated throughout the Proviso Township. In addition, West Cook will offer on-site fitness and exercise programs at facilities operated by its various partners throughout the Township. VFP

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Test Scores Rising Across District 209


Monday, November 24, 2014 || Originally Published: November 20, 2014 by Forest Park Review || Jean Lotus, Editor

Test scores on PSAE and ACT scores up at all three schools, while graduation and chronic truancy rates fall

Scores rose across all three Proviso high school districts on the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE) and the ACT college entrance exam.

PMSA scores surge back

At the District 209 school board meeting Tuesday, Bessie Karvelas, principal of Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park pointed to the highest PSAE scores in the six-year-history of the school.

Scores roared back after a tumble last November, when the district had a cumulative score which dropped five points from 75 to 70 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards.

This year’s cumulative average was 81 percent meeting-or-exceeding, or a 16 percent improvement from last year.

Breaking out the scores, students improved most significantly in science which rose from 60 percent meet-or-exceed to 75.2 percent, a 25 percent improvement. In English, scores improved from 71 percent to 82 percent, a 16 percent boost. Math scores also bumped up by 16 percent, rising from 69 percent in 2013 to almost 80 percent meet-or-exceed.

Karvelas told the board she was asked to raise test scores — and not just back to 2013 levels. “And we did. We got the highest scores in the history of the school,” she said.

She said teachers faced “unknown territory,” when she took the helm at the school, including “high stakes instruction, new school wide initiatives, and 2.5 years of professional development that was rolled into 10 months.”

“This could have been a formula for disaster,” she added.

Karvelas gave special thanks to all PMSA teachers, who under their contract all received a $1,500 bonus.

Karvelas said scores broken into subcategories showed African American students excelling at a pace matching their peers.

“There is no achievement gap at PMSA,” she said.

The PSAE test is on its way out, being replaced by the PARCC exam (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) which are aligned with the Common Core state standards. Students have taken the PSAE exam in April of their junior year.

This year PMSA’s ACT scores rose by one point from an average composite score of 21.5 to 22.5.

Fifty-six percent of seniors were considered ready for college coursework by meeting ACT college readiness benchmarks.

Screenshot 2014-11-24 at 5.13.18 PMProviso East scores improve

Proviso East PSAE scores also improved. Most significantly in math, Proviso East juniors’ scores rose from 11 percent meet-or-exceed to 19 percent, a jump of 73 percent. In reading, scores rose from 20 percent to 22 percent. Science scores fell by one point from 10 percent to 9 percent meet-or-exceed.

Proviso East’s composite ACT scores increased from an average of 15.3 to 15.7, the district said.

However, only seven percent of PEHS students were deemed ready for college coursework by meeting ACT college readiness benchmarks.

Proviso West

Proviso West PSAE test scores in 2014 rose slightly across the board. Reading scores went up by three points from 27 to 30 percent meet-or-exceed. Math scores rose four percent from 24 to 30 and science scores rose by two points from 17 to 19 percent.

The average ACT composite score at Proviso West rose slightly from 16.5 to 16.7 in 2014.

Seventeen percent of PWHS seniors met ACT college-readiness benchmarks.

Chronic truancy falls district-wide

The district got a handle on chronic truancy this year, according to the Illinois Report Card. The number of students who racked up nine or more unexcused absences fell across the district from 46.5 percent last year to 21 percent this year.

At Proviso East, chronic truancy fell from 79 percent last year (1,520 students) to 33 percent this year (534 students) who had nine or more unexcused absences.

PMSA chronic truancy almost disappeared. Last year 29 percent of students (237 students) had tallied nine unexcused absences. In 2014 the district reported only eight students, or one percent.

At Proviso West, the total fell by almost half. Last year the number of students chronically truant was 25 percent, or 534 students. This year, that number fell to 13 percent, or 278 students.

Graduation rates drop

Four-year graduations rates for Proviso East and West dropped from last year’s numbers.

Proviso East had the biggest fall in graduation rates from 73 percent in May, 2013 to 58 percent last year. This means almost 750 students of the 1,775 at Proviso East did not graduate in four years.

Graduation rates at Proviso West (enrollment 2,139) dropped slightly from 77 percent (492 students failing to graduate in four years) to 70 percent (641 students failing to graduate).

PMSA’s graduation rate last year was 100 percent. VFP

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