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Know Your Rights
Source: Brooklyn Downtown Star
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Making a New Road, Still By Walking

Two community groups with common goals and similar, low-income constituencies – Make the Road By Walking (MRBW) in Bushwick and Families United For Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE) in DoBro – are now working together on the Fulton Mall retail corridor.

The new campaign for workers’ rights is being led by FUREE, but it has all the hallmarks of strategies which have been employed by MRBW for years now along Knickerbocker Avenue. A report was released, a march was held, and threats of a community boycott are being brandished.

The coalition of community groups that FUREE is leading includes several local ministers and MRBW. Several members of MRBW were present for a recent Saturday march and rally along Fulton Street from Flatbush Avenue to Borough Hall. FUREE’s offices are located on Willoughby Street, just one block north of the outdoor pedestrian mall.

“The Fulton Mall is a vital part of this community,” said FUREE member Marvel Cruicksank. “It’s outside is OK. It’s trendy, it’s vibrant, it’s colorful, and most all it’s urban: it’s us. Brooklyn’s working families, especially its communities of color, have made this mall a very profitable space for retailers.”

“But its inside,” she went on to decry, “is out of style, dark, and gruesome. All of these stores are full of exploitation. It’s our communities – all of central Brooklyn and beyond – that make Fulton Mall successful, and what do our workers get? Hell.”

“We’re trying to show,” agreed Beverly Corbin, co-chair of FUREE, “you can fight gentrification and over-development, while still fighting for quality jobs. Our communities made Fulton Mall the successful place it is when everyone else left,” she pointed out, referring to the 70s and 80s when DoBro was largely deserted by the monied classes. “Now the men and women who work to make this Mall one of the most vibrant and diverse retail businesses in New York deserve the decent wages and benefits that will support them here.”

FUREE is calling its most recent effort the Jobs and Opportunities for Brooklyn (JOB) campaign, whose methods and clever acronym recall the ongoing Street of Shame (SOS) campaign on Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick led by MRBW. As with that campaign, the march came with a detailed report, this one entitled, “Missed Opportunities: Jobs and Development on Fulton Mall.”

“Currently,” reads page 4 of the report, “many development plans are under consideration that do not include current Brooklyn residents in their plans for the future. Of the retail jobs that currently exist, most only pay the bare legal minimum, a mere $6.75 an hour. That means in a given year full-time workers will make as little as $14,000. Many of the retail positions on the Mall also do not include benefits such as paid vacation/sick days and health insurance. If health insurance is offered it is almost always unaffordable. Furthermore, many employees are only provided with part-time hours resulting in even lower pay.”

The report went on to highlight conditions at five stores on the Mall, two of which were part of nationwide franchises – Payless ShoeSource and Macy’s Department Store – two of which are part of New York Area chains – Pretty Girl and Cookie’s, and one of which is an independent discount store – Price Mart.

Bad pay and even worse working conditions were highlighted at all five stores. “With workers receiving only minimum wage, no benefits or health insurance” concluded the report, “most stores on Fulton Mall are not supporting a living wage that can support a decent life.”

There was talk, during the rally and protest, of a coming boycott against one of the Mall’s retailers, but organizers were tight-lipped about which one. Such tactics recall MRBW’s Bushwick M.O., which often calls for several warning marches before a boycott is declared. MRBW has achieved several notable successes against employers along Knickerbocker Avenue, creating unions where there were none, and winning lawsuits for back pay.