NY1 VIDEO: The Road to City Hall’s Errol Louis visited City Councilman Daniel Dromm’s 25th city council district in Queens.
From Village Voice: by Candice M. Giove
As shoppers scurried to snatch up last minute gifts inside the Queens Center Mall, local elected officials and community organizations painted the shopping destination’s landlord, Macerich, as the latest Grinch in the ongoing fight for living wages — just days after the city council rejected a Kingsbridge Armory plan that had no living wage requirement.
Most of the 3,100 retail workers in the sprawling urban mall earn $7.25 an hour.
Standing on a snowy corner of Queens Boulevard, Santa symbolically held gift-wrapped boxes marked “living wages.” A menacing green Dr. Seuss character represented the mall owner. Activists from Make the Road New York, a citywide organization focusing on economic justice, demanded that the landlord place a living wage clause in its leases — which would require stores to pay $10/hour with benefits, or $11.50 without.
The mall, which lures over 26 million consumers a year and is considered one of the most profitable malls in the country, has already completed a $275 million makeover, adding thousands of square feet of shopping space and parking to the already busy site.
Like many major commercial property owners in New York, Macerich saved $48 million in taxes through the Industrial and Commercial Abatement Program between 2004 and 2009. Make the Road New York predicted that by 2018 those abatements will total $129 million.
Even after years on the job, most mall employees barely climb the earnings ladder, the report said. Their examples include Juan Cucalon, a 28-year-old, $8.25-an-hour cashier at Victoria’s Secret who struggles to pay a $400 rent with monthly earnings of $600, and Saa’datu Sani, whose earnings rose to $8.47 an hour at J.C. Penney after eight years.
The group and the officials plan to continue their campaign against Macerich with street demonstrations and letters. “Just like the story of Scrooge, where the ghost visited him on many occasions,” said Councilman-elect Daniel Dromm, “we’re going to come back, and we’re going to visit this mall on many occasions until we get what the community needs.”
Dromm, whose predecessor, outgoing City Councilwoman Helen Sears, was the lone supportive vote for the Kingsbridge Armory plan, said that he would pay special attention to ensuring that developers kept their promises.
Activists were also angry over what they portrayed as unrealized guarantees for a community space at the mall. “They’re unwilling at this point to open that space up to desperately needed community programs like English as a second language or an afterschool program,” Friedman said.
Their report claims that local teens become mall rats, vacuously hanging out in the food court, while a tourism office stands as the only community-oriented space in the mall.