Friday, May 21, 2010

Residents Plan to Protest Brooklyn Wal-Mart By R.M. Schneiderman - Metropolis - WSJ

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Wal-Mart has yet to officially announce that it is considering the Gateway II shopping center in East New York for its first New York City store, but protests are beginning already.

Citing what it claims is a history of employee abuses and discriminatory practices, a New York community group and roughly 100 East New York residents plan to protest Wal-Mart’s reported plans this afternoon near Spring Creek Towers, a large low and middle income housing complex formerly known as Starrett City, in Brooklyn.

“We’re not opposed to development,” said Jonathan Westin, an organizer for New York Communities for Change, a city-based non-profit. “We just want stores that will pay people fair wages and treat the community the way it should be treated.”

As The Journal reported in April, Wal-Mart has been looking for potential sites for stores across the five boroughs, saying that its presence would would bring jobs and tax revenue.

The Gateway shopping center is reportedly one of them.

Last year, the city approved development of Gateway, which is owned by Related Cos., the company that also developed the Times Warner Center in Midtown.

But in presenting its plan to the City Council, Related did not say that Wal-Mart might become one of its tenants. Bringing in Wal-Mart is a potential political liability for Related, the City Council already approved the company’s development plan, and thus would not be able to block it.

“Wal-Mart is trying to come in the back door,” said Westin.

If Wal-Mart does indeed attempt to move to East New York, many pundits expect a heated battle between the City Council and unions, which spoiled the retailer’s previous efforts to bring stores to Queen and Staten Island.

For years unions have thwarted the retailer’s the much-needed expansion plans into cities.

In April, Mayor Bloomberg came out in favor of the discount retailer’s plan to come to New York.

“People that live in this city are going outside the city to shop at Wal-Marts,” he said. “So, if they’re going to shop at Wal-Marts, they might as well live here, they might as well have the jobs here and the tax revenues here.”

That argument seemed to work in Chicago where city officials had resisted Wal-Mart’s overtures until 2009, when in the throes of the recession, officials suddenly became receptive to them.

On Tuesday, Wal-Mart said that its same-store sales declined by 1.1% as consumers continued to struggle with unemployment and high gas prices.

Earlier this month, the company said it was donating $2 billion in food and money to national food banks over the next five years.