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Queens Center Mall Employees Rally for Better Wages
Nathan Duke

December 24, 2009
View the Original Article

Workers demand retail jobs that pay $10 an hour since giant shopping complex gets tax subsidies

More than 25 workers in varying jobs at Elmhurst’s Queens Center Mall joined advocacy group Make the Road New York and several borough elected officials Sunday to protest their low wages and lack of benefits.

The workers, many of whom are members of Make the Road New York, demanded that the mall, on Queens Boulevard near Woodhaven Boulevard in Elmhurst, provide decent jobs in exchange for the $48 million the shopping center received this year in tax subsidies.

“We want a living wage,” said Lili Salmeron, an organizer for Make the Road. “We feel the mall should give back to the community.”

Make the Road New York is a worker advocacy group that focuses on economic, workplace and environmental justice as well as empowering youth.

The protesters, who held up signs reading “Union Jobs” and “Jobs with Good Benefits,” called on the mall to provide retail jobs that pay $10 per hour and include benefits.

The workers, who hold retail jobs in the mall, are mostly all paid the city’s $7.25 per hour minimum wage and do not receive benefits, said Michael Yellin, of Make the Road. The mall’s individual retailers hire their own workers.

Yellin said Macy’s was one of the few stores at the mall that provided union wages and benefits.

The group said they wanted the mall to create a community space where local youths could have a safe place to gather as well as provide English as a Second Language classes and allow them to unionize.

Queens Center Mall is owned by Macerich, one of the country’s largest owners of malls. The Queens shopping center opened in 1973 and was purchased by Macerich in 1995.

The mall’s workers were joined by state Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights), City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and Councilman-elect Danny Dromm.

“I believe that any recipient of tax subsidies must be held to the highest standard,” Dromm said of the mall. “They must pay livable wages and they must be responsive to the needs of the surrounding community. The Queens Center Mall needs to be stop being Scrooge at this time of year. Its jobs are poverty-level jobs. Elmhurst is a very needy community.”