Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), listening to several testimonies at a Civil Service and Labor Committee hearing, said he was "interested in legislation that could help out."A report in Newsday, quoting an unnamed source, said Tuesday other retailers, including Kohl's Department Store, have expressed interest in the Rego Park site. Given the heat from city leaders on Wal-Mart, such interest could put pressure on the site's owner, Vornado Realty Trust, to consider other options.A spokeswoman from Vornado Realty declined to comment. Calls to Kohl's corporate office went unreturned. Protests have centered around Wal-Mart's "anti-union" practices since December when the company announced its interest in using the parking lot off Queens Boulevard and the Long Island Expressway in Rego Park as the site of its first store in the city. Last week the retailer announced the closing of a Quebec store that was on the verge of winning a union contract, which caused a stir among the big box store's opponents.Union leaders testified at the Council hearing that the superstore on average paid its employees $8.23 an hour compared with the average supermarket worker who made $10.35 an hour. Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mia Masten said in a letter submitted to the hearing that Wal-Mart paid its metropolitan employees $10.38 per hour. No one from Wal-Mart attended the hearing.Another complaint focused on Wal-Mart's limited health benefits. According to research submitted by Addabbo's office, more than 50 percent of Wal-Mart's 1.2 million employees who are not covered under the company's health plan have cost taxpayers about $750 million a year in government-subsidized health insurance."I'm not a betting man, but if I was, I would bet the farm that Wal-Mart would have second thoughts about New York City being their new frontier if they would actually have to pay towards the cost of health care for all of its employees," said Patrick Purcell, of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500, which represents about 11,000 city workers, at the hearing. There is also concern about how the nation's largest retailers would affect surrounding businesses in Queens. Several union officials accused Wal-Mart of "predatory pricing," whereby a large chain opens a store in a community and lowers its prices, suffocating nearby retailers until they go out of business."The simple truth is that we cannot compete with the Wal-Marts and BJs of the world if they are able to continue to severely undercut the wages and benefits that we routinely provide our workers," testified Morton Sloan, chief operating officer of 10 Associated Supermarkets in the city.Sloan and others have requested legislation or at least an impact study initiated by the City Council before Wal-Mart finalizes its Rego Park plans. Wal-Mart's Masten said the company has not yet signed a deal with Vornado Realty Trust.Not everyone has agreed with the claim that Wal-Mart would have a negative impact, and some have objected to any move by the City Council to interfere with the chain's anticipated arrival in the city. Donald Halperin, of the New York Metropolitan Retail Association, said blocking big box stores only deprives residents of cheap retail prices and job opportunities. Jay Parker, head of the Rego Park Merchants Association and owner of a nearby kosher deli, also said he sees Wal-Mart as a good opportunity for the community despite the competition local businesses might face. "We want the option of lower prices and we don't want someone legislating that away," Parker said. "There will probably be a period of realignment, but if Wal-Mart can do it better, faster and cheaper, then more power to them."Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@times
©2005 Community News Group
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