En Español Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Courier
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Workers Demand Living Wage From Mall

The
holiday wish list for the owners and stores at Queens Center Mall most likely
included increased sales. It probably didn’t include being called a “publicly
subsidized poverty wage center.”


Retailers
at Queens Center Mall and its property owner, The Macerich Company, have been
accused by elected officials, community organizers and residents of not paying
a living wage to the majority of the mall’s approximately 3,100 workers, despite
Macerich’s receipt of around $48 million in city tax abatements during the last
five years.


“Queens Center Mall
is among the most profitable malls across the country and made sales of about
$876 per square foot in 2008,”
said Andrew
Friedman
, co-executive
director of

the Jackson Heights community organization
Make the
Road New York (MRNY)
,
adding the mall has close to one million feet of leasable space. “Macerich could lower rents and still make
money so that the [retail] tenants could pay more to the workers.”


In
a report issued by MRNY and the
Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), titled “Queens Center Mall: A Poverty Center
in Elmhurst”
at a protest on Sunday, December 20, a survey of workers at 25 stores found the
average wage to be around $7.72. The survey also found that one restaurant,
Ranch 1, offered new hires $6.75, a violation of New York State
labor law. Last summer’s New York
State minimum increased
to $7.25.


“An $11 an hour wage
would enable a full-time worker to support themselves and their family without
relying on the government,” Friedman
said.


MRNY and RWDSU
recommended that Macerich include requirements in its lease agreements
stipulating that tenants provide a living wage, which they calculate at $10
with benefits or $11.50 without benefits. They want to see Queens Center Mall
provide useful and defined public spaces for the community and respect worker’s
right to organize a union.


Christine
Romero, spokesperson for Macerich, said that as a publicly traded company, “we
are not able to share the proprietary details of our retailers’ leases. It
would also not be appropriate for us to comment on behalf of our retailers.”


Built
in 1973, Queens Center Mall, located on the intersections of 59th Avenue and Woodhaven and Queens
Boulevards, was purchased by Macerich in 1995. From 2002 to 2004, the structure
underwent a massive renovation and added approximately 380,000 square feet and
an adjacent parking structure.


According
to Friedman, beginning in 2004, the
mall entered into the Industrial Commercial Incentive Program – now replaced by
the Industrial and Commercial Abatement Program (ICAP) – for a tax abatement
benefit period of 15 years. The MRNY/RWDSU report expects Queens Center Mall to
receive a benefit of $129 million during that time.


By
year’s end 2008, the mall stores occupied 97.5 percent of the mall according to
a Macerich press release.


On
July 30, 2009, Macerich sold a 49 percent stake of Queens Center Mall to
Cadillac Fairview Corporation, a Canadian-based company and unit of the Ontario
Teachers Pension Plan, for $150 million and absorption of the $167 million in
mortgage debt. In their third quarter financial filing to the Securities and
Exchange Commission, the Santa Monica-based company reported a final sell price
of approximately $152.7 million.


The
Macerich Company, which operates as a real estate investment trust (REIT) and
does not have to pay federal income tax, provided that at least 90 percent of
taxable income goes back to shareholders.


A
spokesperson for the New York City Economic Development Corporation said an
ICAP development project that receives tax abatements from the city has “no
discretionary benefit tied” to any commercial project that “they or any other
developer build in these distressed areas.”


“We
do not have any flexibility to decide which project gets living wage or public
space requirements,” the spokesperson said. “Jobs are created, the area sees
economic development, and shoppers in Queens stay in Queens instead of going to
New Jersey.”


The
spokesperson added that though the city may not receive real estate taxes, the
city receives employment and sales taxes.


The
MRNY and RWDSU said they will
continue their campaign to require retailers at Queens Center Mall to pay a
living wage with benefits, respect their employees’ right to organize a union
without threat or intimidation, and secure community space to provide much
needed community services, such as job training, youth services, ESL classes,
financial counseling and more.


Queens
Center Mall spokesperson Dawn Simon declared in an email statement that groups
like Latino Share, a cancer survivor support and educational group, LaGuardia Community College,
Community Board 4, New York Blood Center,
and the Queens Economic Development
Center consistently use
space within the mall.


However,
the local leaders and residents would like to see wages rise.


“Despite
its success,” said Councilmember Julissa Ferreras, who addressed the
protesters, “the mall continues to pay the majority of their workers, the same
people who have contributed to the mall’s success with their hard work, the
minimum wage rate, which forces them and their families to live below the
federal poverty line.”


“These
workers have done their job; now its time for the folks operating the Queens
Center Mall to do their part and make right by their workers and the
community,” she said.