In These Times
In New York City, we have a test case. The Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst has been an economic success. It boasts the highest revenue per square foot for any mall in the U.S.; its parent company, Macerich, has received $48 million in tax abatements in the past five years, and $50 million more are coming.
Yet the 3,100 workers who work there aren't seeing too much money. The workers' hourly wage averages $7.50, well below the estimated $11.50 living wage that the New York City Council tried to require for a new Bronx shopping project.
Recently, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and Make the Road New York have teamed up with consumer groups and local politicians to hold retailers accountable. In December, RWDSU and Make the Road/NY issued a report, “Queens Center Mall: A Poverty Wage Center in Elmhurst.” Not only does the mall fail to pay living wages, but because of the lack of public space in Central Queens, and the nearby crowded neighborhoods, the mall has become de facto public space, attracting hundreds of area teens per day.
The coalition is making a stand at the mall, demanding three basic rights: a living wage of $11.50 per hour, services and accessible space for the surrounding community, and the mall’s management must respect workers’ rights to organize.
Located in one of the most ethnically diverse and densely populated places in the country, the drama now playing out at the Queens Center Mall might point to a new organizing effort at the grassroots. Unions, working with key community organizations and allied with progressive local politicians, are finally fighting big targets.
As progressives, we need to get the word out. For more information, read the RWDSU report.