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Protesters Converge on Queens Center Mall to Fight Lack of Living Wage Requirement
NY Daily News
Dave Buscema

December 23, 2009
View the Original Article

On the heels of a City Council decision to nix the Kingsbridge Armory mall project over the lack of a living wage requirement, advocates and elected officials are raising similar concerns about the Queens Center Mall.

Protesters converged on the Elmhurst shopping center on Sunday, calling it a "poverty wage center," even though it received $48 million in tax abatements.

"When a developer or mall owner seeks public money, they have to give back to the community and the workers," said Jeff Eichler of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

The 50 or so protesters - including elected officials and representatives of the advocacy group Make the Road New York - called on the mall's parent company, Macerich, to require increased wages and benefits from its tenants, to allow union organization and to provide more of its space to community functions.

The Council voted down the Kingsbridge Armory mall project when the developer, Related Companies, wouldn't agree to require a living wage minimum of $10 an hour with benefits or $11.50 without. Other malls in New York do not yet have such requirements, Eichler said, but many municipalities will not offer tax breaks without them.

Many of the 3,100 retailers at the Queens Center Mall paid just above the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, according to a survey by advocates.

Queens Center Mall boasts the highest revenue per square foot of any mall in the U.S. That, and $48 million in tax abatements granted between 2004 and 2009, should require action, protesters said.

"If you go into the mall and you take something for nothing, you're likely to get into a lot of trouble," said Andrew Friedman, co-executive director of Make the Road. "But the Queens Center Mall itself is taking $48 million in public subsidies and they've given almost nothing in return."

A Macerich spokeswoman said company policy did not allow for comment on its requirements for tenants.

"We do not discuss our leases and cannot comment on behalf of our retailers," Dawn Simon, a senior marketing manager, wrote in an e-mail.

Protesters also said the mall had not provided adequate community use, but Simon said a 1,400-square-foot space has been used by groups such as LaGuardia Community College and Community Board 4.

Councilman-elect Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), whose predecessor Helen Sears cast the lone vote for the Kingsbridge Armory project, said he would continue to push Macerich and other local developers on behalf of workers.

"This mall has been a Scrooge to our community," he said. "But if you know what happened in the story "The Christmas Carol," Scrooge was visited by three ghosts. And although we are not ghosts, we are going to visit this mall time and time again until we enforce on this mall the same type of transformation that Scrooge had."