New Yorkers voiced opposition to a possible Wal-Mart entry into the NY market at yet another hearing, this one held by the Bloomberg administration. The hearing concerned a proposed sale of city land to Related Co., the developer of an expansion of the Gateway project in East New York. Related has agreed to pay $35 million for a 406,000 square foot parcel of land appraised at $30.5 million. Critics argue the appraisal is low because it only considers the planned Gateway II retail mall, ignoring new zoning which allows for 3.8 million square feet of commercial development.
Suspicions have been growing since Related has been in talks with Wal-Mart. Councilman Charles Barron said Related gave him a verbal commitment not to allow Wal-Mart in Gateway. “We are not going for a bait-and -switch,” said Barron. “Related is the only one who can bring Wal-Mart into Gateway. If Related becomes a bad business partner to the City Council, future Related projects may be at risk.” Related says it has not signed any retail lease for the expansion project.
The talks between Related and Wal-Mart seem eerily similar to a scenario in Washington state. In the Seattle area, Wal-Mart was able to establish footing through Sabey Corp. By the time local residents discovered Wal-Mart’s plan’s to enter their market, it was too late for the community to effectively organize against the behemoth. One Seattle area council member believed a deliberate deception took place.
Wal-Mart desperately needs New York. It reported a 1.8% decline in same-store sales in the first quarter of 2011. Wal-Mart’s stock price has been flat for 10 years. Last year, Wal-Mart lost U.S. market share to its competitors for the first time in a decade. Wal-Mart does not want to be considered a “mature stock” – they want to be a “growth stock.” It has saturated non-urban parts of the U.S. with their stores.
Criticism of Wal-Mart remains. The retail giant closes stores rather than allow workers to unionize. It faces the largest class action gender discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history for its systemic bias against female workers. It has locked workers in its stores overnight, a clear safety violation reminiscent of conditions leading to the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. Workers do not work full-time, with no opportunity for overtime. Most Wal-Mart employees receive pay so low, they are eligible to receive government benefits such as Food Stamps and rental assistance.
“Wal-Mart is the largest national seller of guns,” said Barron. “Remember the guy who shot Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Gifford? He got his bullets and magazines from Wal-Mart that morning. But it gets worse. Wal-Mart takes out life insurance policies on its workers, with it as the beneficiary – not the worker’s families.”
Barron said he has spoken to hundreds of East New York residents who don’t want Wal-Mart. “We must get Wal-Mart out of the picture,” he said. “We are willing to work with Related on a list of companies interested in coming to Gateway. We would demand living wage jobs with health benefits.” Barron suggested ShopRite as a potential retail tenant because of its $12/hr. pay, health care and the opportunity to join a union.
“We don’t need Wal-Mart. Small businesses are the lifeblood of a community,” Barron said.