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Retail Zombies Decry Frighteningly Bad Wages

October 29, 2010
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Community Demands Living Wages and Respect

On Thursday night, labor and community groups gathered at the Queens Center Mall to raise awareness to Halloween shoppers about what working in retail is really like—and based on the looks of our retail zombies, it's a horror!! The Queens Center Mall receives tens of millions in taxpayer subsidies and yet the people who work in the mall make poverty wages.

“Something is very wrong when a person works 60 hours a week at two different jobs and cares for three children and still can just barely get by,” said Jennifer Mercado, who worked at Children’s Place and Yellow Rat Bastard in the mall. “If I work full-time for a store that makes millions of dollars every year, and in a mall that receives millions in tax breaks, then I should be able to support myself and my children.”

Owned by the Macerich Company, the Queens Center Mall is one of the most profitable malls in the country. Despite this, Macerich receives over $100 million in tax breaks but most of the 3,100 jobs at the mall pay at or around the $7.25 federal minimum wage and do not include health benefits. As a result, the mall has helped create an entire community that is struggling under the weight of poverty-wage jobs, and struggling to make ends meet for themselves and their families.

“It’s not fair that the Queens Center Mall workers have to work two jobs, since $7.25 an hour is not enough to support a family. We want the mall to pay their workers a living wage because the mall benefits from the community. As a resident and consumer at the mall, I want respect and a living wage for the mall workers,” said Maria Cervantes, a member of Make the Road New York.

“In addition to living wages for workers, the mall owner should provide much-needed space for community services,” said Irene Romero, lifelong Queens resident who emphasized the importance of having a place where community members can gather and have access to job services, classes, and more.

Thursday’s action was part of a growing campaign to require New York City businesses that receive public subsidies, such as the Queens Center Mall, to pay a living wage with benefits, respect their employees' right to organize a union without threat or intimidation, and provide affordable community space for much needed community services, such as job training, youth services, English as a Second Language classes, financial counseling and more.

“I am an honest and hardworking person and deserve to be treated with respect,” said Marvin Hernandez, who worked at the J.C. Penney in the Queens Center Mall for three years. “I hope the Queens Center Mall changes their bad practices and workers get paid a living wage with benefits, that workers’ right to organize a union is respected and the community can have low cost space for community services,” he added.

The Queens Center Mall Campaign has been endorsed by many components of the Queens community and labor, including: Make the Road New York, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), Adhikaar for Human Rights & Social Justice, Chhaya CDC, Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, UMC Community Voices Heard, Damayan Migrants Workers Association, Drum Desis Rising Up & Moving Up, Good Jobs New York, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Jobs with Justice New York, Judson Memorial Church. Korean Community Services of Metropolitan NY (KCS), Maura Clarke-Ita Ford Center (MCIF), Mothers on the Move, Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project (NEDAP), New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), Queens Community House, Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, South Asian Youth Action (Saya), Urban Justice Center, Working Families Party, MinKwon Center