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Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Courier
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Community Demands Living Wages

Labor and community groups gathered at Queens Center Mall recently to raise awareness about what they call the horror of working in retail.

Though the Queens Center Mall receives tens of millions in taxpayer subsidies, Make the Road New York, a community advocacy group, claimed that most of the 3,100 jobs at the mall pay at or around the $7.25 federal minimum wage and do not provide health benefits.

“Something is very wrong when a person works 60 hours a week at two different jobs and cares for three children and still can just barely get by,” said Jennifer Mercado, who worked at Children’s Place and Yellow Rat Bastard in the mall. “If I work full-time for a store that makes millions of dollars every year, and in a mall that receives millions in tax breaks, then I should be able to support myself and my children.”

The protest on October 28 was part of a growing campaign to require 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.

“I am an honest and hardworking person and deserve to be treated with respect,” said Marvin Hernandez, who worked at the J.C. Penney in the mall for three years. “I hope the Queens Center Mall changes their bad practices and workers get paid a living wage with benefits, that workers’ right to organize a union is respected and the community can have low cost space for community services.”

In response, Rebecca Stenholm, assistant vice president of Public Relations for the Macerich Company, the owner of the Queens Center Mall, said they abide by New York State and New York City employment laws, including minimum wage laws, and so do their retailers.

“Like all shopping centers across the country, Queens Center does not have a role in determining retailers’ compensation for their employees,” Stenholm said.

But Stenholm also refuted claims that the mall doesn’t work with the community. She said the mall hosts the annual naturalization ceremony, a reading program with a local school, and several events in the center’s community space.

“Our tradition and commitment is to be a positive force in the communities we serve, and we do that in many different ways and continue to do so,” Stenholm said.