Movement for Living Wages, Community Space, Organizing Rights Grows at Queens Center Mall

The coalition fighting for living wages and community space at the Queens Center Mall confronted the mall owner, the Macerich Company, today demanding a meeting to begin discussions on how to transform the publicly subsidized poverty wage center into a responsible development that pays employees a living wage and benefits the community.

Submitted by Retail Action … on March 9, 2010

The Queens Center Mall is one of the most profitable malls in the country. Yet, as the Queens Center Mall Coalition’s December report revealed, the Macerich Company 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 study found the mall has helped create an entire community that is struggling under the weight of poverty-wage jobs.

"Even during the current economic downturn, while other malls and retail stores have lost some revenue, the Queens Center Mall has continued to pull in massive profits,” said Ana Maria Archila, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York, a co-convener of the Queens Center Mall Campaign. “How has Macerich stayed so profitable? Because we allowed them to expand their mall here in Elmhurst and gave them tens of millions of dollars in tax subsidies to do it. Today, we are demanding that mall management begin working with us to make the mall a good corporate citizen in our community.”

Speakers at a press conference singled out JC Penney as a prime example of what is wrong at the mall. Despite being one of the most profitable JC Penney stores, last month the hours of full-time employees, some with more than 20 years of service, were cut and 25 part-time employees were terminated.

“I am an honest, hardworking person and deserve to be treated with respect. And that is why I am here today, fighting for dignity, respect and justice for myself and other retail workers in the mall,” said Marvin Hernandez, one of the recently laid off JC Penney workers.

Today’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.

“When tax dollars are used to subsidize private development, the public has the right to demand that the jobs created pay a living wage. The community has the right to demand that it benefits from the taxpayers’ investment,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), another Queens Center Mall Campaign co-convener.

The press conference and action took place on International Women’s Day, which celebrates the achievements of women and spurs the struggle for gender equality. According to an Economic Policy Institute report, “Minimum Wage Issue Guide,” adult women, many of whom support children, hold the overwhelming majority of minimum wage jobs in the U.S. The EPI findings support those of the “Queens Center Mall: A Poverty Wage Center in Elmhurst Queens” released by the coalition in December.

"The owners of the Queens Center Mall must stop paying poverty wages. The most profitable mall in NYC should pay a livable wage to its hard-working employees. This shopping mall received public funds to finance its expansion. Now, it must respect the community and its workers by being more responsive and paying higher wages," said City Council Member Daniel Dromm who represents the district where the mall is located.

“This fight for living wage jobs and community space is important to TWU Local 100,” said Marvin Holland, TWU Local 100 Community Affairs Officer. “Your fight is our fight!”

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, 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. KCS Korean Community Services of Metropolitan NY, Maura Clarke-Ita Ford Center (MCIF), Mothers on the Move, NEDAP Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, NICE New Immigrant Community Empowerment, Queens Community House, Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, SAYA South Asian Youth Action, Urban Justice Center, Working Families Party, YKASEC Empowering The Korean American Community.