On May 21, I attended a town hall meeting at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Corona with hundreds of others to demand that the owner of the Queens Center Mall, the Macerich Co., give back to the community by transforming the publicly subsidized mall from a poverty wage center into a responsible development for Queens workers.
Among those participating in the event were elected officials: state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), state Assemblymen Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) and Jeffrion Aubrey (D-Corona) and City Council members Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights). The meeting was hosted by Make the Road New York; Queens Congregations United for Action; the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; and the Retail Action Project.
In exchange for the more than $100 million in tax breaks Macerich receives, a growing community, labor and 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.
The owners of the mall receive tens of millions of dollars in subsidies from our tax dollars, but what does the community receive in return? Absolutely nothing.
Retail is one of the areas where the largest number of jobs is 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 should not even be a question for the Queens Center Mall, one of the most profitable malls in the country — profits of $876 per square foot — to become a living wage and not a poverty wage center.
Many people who work at the mall barely make the minimum wage. As everyone knows, it is not possible to live on such a low salary here in Queens, much less support a family.
I believe it is important that when we talk about economic development in our community, we should talk about jobs that provide economic stability, jobs that can support a family and not part-time jobs with poverty wages and no benefits. Macerich should be made to require union neutrality from its retailers so employees can decide whether or not to organize a union without fear of threats or retaliation.
A living wage bill is being debated in the Council, which would require businesses that receive tax breaks or city subsidies to pay their workers a living wage of $11.50 an hour without benefits or $10 an hour with benefits.
I would urge anyone reading this letter to contact their Council members and tell them that they should vote to pass a living wage law in New York City. I believe it is a moral imperative that if people work full-time, they should be able to support their families and feed their children.
David M. Quintana
©2011 Community News Group
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