Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wal-Mart Plan Stirs Queens Ghosts by Domenick Rafter - Queens Tribune

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A plan to open a Wal-Mart store in a proposed Brooklyn shopping center, only minutes from Queens, is meeting opposition from a local union and digging up ghosts of rumors past.

The 23,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500, New York State's largest grocery workers union, accused Wal-Mart Stores of waging a "cowardly and undemocratic" campaign to subvert the New York City Council, local community boards and residents of targeted communities.

"Wal-Mart's campaign is based on avoiding the New York City Council, the local community boards, community groups and the New York City labor movement because they fear an honest and democratic debate," said Bruce Both, president of UFCW Local 1500. "It shows that profits, as always, are the only item on Wal-Mart's agenda."

Wal-Mart is said to be eyeing a spot in the planned 630,000 square-foot Gateway Mall II Project in East New York, Brooklyn, along the Belt Parkway. The site is only minutes from the Queens neighborhoods of Broad Channel Howard Beach, Ozone Park, and South Ozone Park.

"We do not have a project to announce anywhere within the five boroughs of New York City. However, we know that New Yorkers want to shop and work at Wal-Mart and as a result, we continue to evaluate potential opportunities here," said Steven Restivo, Director of Community Affairs at Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart sought to open stores in Rego Park, in the current location of the new Rego Park Mall, and in Staten Island, but staunch opposition thwarted both attempts. The company said the new store would bring much-needed jobs to an area stymied by double-digit unemployed. As of February 2010, the unemployment rate in Brooklyn and the southern Queens neighborhoods adjacent to the Wal-Mart site was more than 10 percent.

A 2006 poll performed shortly after Wal-Mart withdrew itself from negotiations for the Rego Park site showed nearly two-thirds of Queens residents would shop at a Wal-Mart in Queens if there is one. A hoax story in the April Fool's Day edition of the Queens Tribune sent hundreds of people flocking to Atlas Park looking for jobs and to shop when the lead story joked that a Wal-Mart took over the Glendale mall's location.

According to Wal-Mart's Web site, the average wage for a full time, hourly employee in a Wal-Mart in New York State is $12.03, nearly $5 more than minimum wage, and close to what full-time, hourly employees at Wal-Mart's competitors make. Restivo noted that "more than three quarters" of Wal-Mart's management team started as hourly associates.

"Across the country, we create jobs that include a competitive wage, affordable benefits and the chance to build a career," he said. Wal-Mart has a store in Valley Stream, less than a mile from Rosedale.