By Ivan Pereira
A group of former employees of stores at the Queens Center Mall rallied outside the doors of the Elmhurst shopping center on Father’s Day to demand that its owner give them more benefits since it gets huge tax breaks from the city.
The Queens Center Mall Campaign, a grassroots group created in December, said the Macerich Co. has been cheating workers at the various stores out of a larger income during the weak economy. Not only is the mall one of the most profitable commercial properties in the nation, but it also receives more than $100 million in tax breaks from the city, according to the group.
Marvin Hernandez, 29, of Jamaica, who was laid off from the JC Penny store four months ago, said there was no reason for him and other store employees to be paid a low wage of $7.25 an hour.
“I know this is the way the economy is, but that is not a reason to lay off a lot of people,” he said.
Several other former employees joined Hernandez and gave personal anecdotes about their experiences working under the low-paying conditions.
Irene Moreno, 24, said she had been working at Queens Center for a decade and never got a raise or health benefits.
“I cannot survive, you cannot survive,” she said.
Ken Gillett, senior vice president of property management for Macerich, said his company has been meeting with the group over the last few months and acknowledged their concerns. He said Macerich has no control over the wage regulations issued by the individual stores in the mall and the group should take the issue to the government.
“We very much appreciate the concerns they have expressed, but those concerns are better expressed by the people who regulate wages in the state and the city,” he said.
Protesters said Macerich could do more.
The campaign members said they would like the city to be tougher on the California-based company. Jeff Eichler, director of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s Retail Organizing Project, said he wants the city to enforce businesses that get tax breaks to give employees better wages and benefits.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.