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Workers Charge Wage Theft at Queens Center Mall

December 7, 2010

Millions for Mall, Pennies for Workers

Today, elected leaders, community and union members joined retail workers to demand that Queens Center Mall owner, the Macerich Company, stop wage theft by retailers and ensure living wages for everyone who works in the mall. Retail workers report that a store in the mall continues to illegally pay below the minimum wage with no overtime, even during the peak shopping season. Macerich claims that all its tenants “abide by New York State and New York City employment laws, including minimum wage laws.”

“You would think that if you work at one of the most profitable malls in the country you would at least make enough to survive on,” said a former worker from Lolita, a clothing store chain with one store in the mall and four other locations throughout New York City. The worker, who chose to remain anonymous, said he worked 11 hours a day, 6 days a week, and only made $5.45 an hour. “The Queens Center Mall has a responsibility to make sure its tenants are following the law,” he said.

Other workers at Lolita say they work 66 hours and make as little as $300 per week, which comes out to an hourly rate of $4.55 per hour. This is both a violation of the minimum wage law of $7.25 per hour, and the legally-required overtime pay rate of time-and-a-half.

“The Queens Center Mall has rules for when stores can open and close,” State Senator Jose Peralta said. “In its leases, Queens Center Mall requires certain signage and makes other requirements of its tenants. Those same leases can be used to ensure that none of its tenants engage in wage theft and that workers are paid fairly. That would not only protect workers, but also level the playing field for the law-abiding businesses that operate at a competitive disadvantage for doing the right thing.”

“I am very concerned that a store at the Queens Center Mall might be in violation of federal labor statutes. I urge the management of Lolita and the mall to make every effort to ensure that workers are treated fairly and are paid a living wage,” said City Council Member Julissa Ferreras (D–Queens).

The alleged violations at Lolita have been reported to the New York State Department of Labor In the past the Labor Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office have found such former Queens Center Mall stores as Footco and Yellow Rat Bastard engaged in wage theft.

“The company and the mall owner always did what was best for them. They never cared about what was best for their workers,” said Mamoudou Keita, who worked at the former Yellow Rat Bastard store in the mall for 11 hours a day, 7 days a week, and only earned $300 a week. “I had to work all day, every day, for poverty wages,” he added.

In exchange for the more than $100 million in tax breaks Macerich receives, elected leaders today joined the retail workers to demand the mall owner require its retailer tenants to pay a living wage with benefits, respect workers’ rights to organize a union without threat or intimidation, and provide space for community services.

“The owners of Lolita and employers throughout Queens and New York City should hear our message loud and clear—we will never stand by silently when workers are being mistreated. Every working person deserves a living wage, and we will continue to stand up to any business who violates labor laws or refuses to treat its employees with dignity and respect,” said Assemblyman-elect Francisco Moya (D-Queens).

“You can’t live in NYC without earning a livable wage. Considering that the Queens Center Mall is one of the most profitable retail centers in the country, it is imperative that they provide their workers with fair and livable wages,” added Assemblyman David Weprin (D-24th Assembly District, Queens).

“It is more important than ever that we fight for the rights of workers and those rights include a wage that respects the employee and the cost of living in New York City,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Queens). “I look forward to working with my colleagues and Make the Road New York in the march for justice for all workers.”

Community and union members of the Queens Center Mall Campaign showed support for the workers in the mall and for improvements to the community.

“We are here today to convince the Queens Center Mall owner, the Macerich Company, to become a good neighbor, not the poverty-wage center that it is today. The mall is one of the most profitable in the country. Macerich receives $100 million in public subsidies. They can mandate that their retailers pay a living wage, they can allow unionization to occur without fear of threat and intimidation, and they can give up some space in the mall for community use,” said Jeff Eichler of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

“It’s not fair that many of the Queens Center Mall workers have to work two jobs to support their families. The community should get something in return from the tens of millions of tax breaks that the mall owners get from the city and state. As a resident and consumer at the mall, I want respect and a living wage for the mall workers,” said Maria Cervantes, member of Make the Road New York.

Protestors today delivered a letter to Macerich which, in part, stated, “If Macerich truly cares about the communities where it does business, as its website states, it would be willing to: (1) ensure that its retailers pay a living wage ($10 per hour with benefits or $11.50 without benefits); (2) ensure that its retailers respect their employees’ right to organize a union without fear of threats or intimidation; (3) provide community space for much needed services such as job training, youth programs, and ESL classes.”

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.