NEW YORK, NY – Hundreds turned out today for a Town Hall meeting demanding that the owner of the highly profitable Queens Center Mall, the Macerich Company, give back to the community by transforming the publicly subsidized mall from a poverty wage center into a responsible development.
Among those participating in the event were: NY State Senator Jose Peralta, NY Assembly member Francisco Moya and New York City Council Members Julissa Ferreras and Daniel Dromm. The meeting was hosted by Make the Road New York (MRNY), Queens Congregations United for Action (QCUA), the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and the Retail Action Project (RAP).
In exchange for the more than $100 million in tax breaks Macerich receives, a growing community, labor, clergy coalition is pushing to hold the Queens Center Mall owner accountable to the public by requiring retailers to pay a living wage with benefits, respect workers' rights to organize a union without threats or intimidation, and provide space for community services.
"I’m very concerned about the low wages and the lack of benefits at the Queens Center Mall," State Senator Peralta said at the Town Hall meeting. "I call upon Macerich to require union neutrality from its retailers, so employees can decide whether or not to organize a union without fear of threats or retaliation."
"I’m concerned about the working conditions at the Queens Center Mall. Of course we want businesses to create jobs in our community, but we want them to be good jobs. When we talk about economic development in our community, we should be talking about jobs that provide economic stability, jobs that can support a family and not part-time jobs with poverty wages and no benefits," said NY Assembly member Francisco Moya.
Peralta and Moya are supporting the community, labor, clergy coalition that has come together as the Queens Center Mall Campaign (QCMC).
Participants at the Town Hall meeting also heard testimony from members of a number of organizations in the campaign.
“Our vision is to offer the hundreds of youth from our community who go to the mall after school every day more options for enrichment. We think the Queens Center Mall, in an act of good faith to the community who supports it, should provide community space where programs and services aimed at youth and their families can be offered, for things like job training, job placement, after school programs, homework help, and English classes for immigrants. We want the mall to be a place where the community can come together for more than just shopping,” said Fr. Darrell Da Costa, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church, a QCUA member.
“I shop regularly at the Queens Center Mall and I’m very concerned about the situation there. The owners of the mall receive tens of millions of dollars in subsidies from our tax dollars and what does the community receive in return? Nothing. The mall has a lot of space and the community has a lot of needs. The owners of the Queens Center Mall should make space available for things like English classes and job training,” said MRNY member Isabel Encalada.
“Retail is one of the areas where the largest number of jobs are being created, and it is past time for retail workers to receive a living wage and be able to unionize without being threatened by their employers. It shouldn’t even be a question for the Queens Center Mall, one of the most profitable malls in the country to become a living wage center and not a poverty wage one,” said Jeff Eichler of the RWDSU.
“I worked at a store in the Queens Center Mall both before and after there was a union, and I can tell you it makes a huge difference. We went from making below minimum wage to having a union contract with regular raises and paid sick and vacation time. Unfortunately, most of the stores in the mall don’t have a union. The workers should have living wages and should have the right to organize without being bullied and intimidated by their employers, ” said Mamoudou Keita, an RWDSU member who worked at the Yellow Rat Bastard at the mall and who now works at its unionized SoHo location.
“I know many people who work at the mall. They talk about a lot of job-related problems – that they barely make the minimum wage or that they only work part-time. This creates a lot of financial stress for them because it’s not possible to live on such a low salary here in Queens, much less support a family,” said MRNY member Vicente de la Torre.
Although representatives from the Macerich Company were invited to participate in the Town Hall meeting, they did not.
The Queens Center Mall Campaign has been endorsed by many components of the Queens community and labor, including: Make the Road New York, Queens Congregations United for Action, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the Retail Action Project (RAP); 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.