By Maggie Astor
New York Communities for Change and thousands of Brooklyn residents are mobilizing against the opening of a WalMart in the East New York neighborhood.
Between 60 and 70 East New York residents rallied in May, and most recently, they gathered in front of City Hall on June 23 with representatives from NYCC, the Working Families Party, RWDSU, SEIU local 32BJ, the New York City Council Progressive Caucus, and several New York City politicians, including City Council speaker Christine Quinn. Organizers have also collected 7,000 petition signatures, and a Facebook group titled “The LAST thing Brooklyn needs is a WALMART!” has over 1,300 members.
Organizers cited WalMart’s low wages and mistreatment of employees as the reason for their opposition. Pat Boone, acting president of New York Communities for Change, referred especially to the pending class-action lawsuit against WalMart, which is the largest sex discrimination lawsuit in history.
“Bringing WalMart in would be a slap in the face of the community,” Boone said. “Even if they might offer low prices, there are other stores that do that and treat their workers fairly.”
Both Boone and NYCC lead organizer Jonathan Westin also criticized the lack of outreach on WalMart’s part and called for more community input in the process. One of the major goals of the petition campaign is to schedule a public hearing on the issue.
The area where WalMart hopes to build belongs to the Gateway shopping mall in Starrett City. As such, the land already went through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure and was approved, so WalMart wouldn’t have to go through that arduous, expensive process.
“They’re trying to sneak in the back door,” Westin said.
Added Boone, “WalMart is trying to come in without getting any input from the residents there.”
In April, when WalMart first announced its intention to open a Brooklyn store, spokesman Steven Restivo told Crain’s New York, “We know that New Yorkers want to shop and work at WalMart. … New Yorkers want quality jobs and affordable groceries, and it remains our goal to be part of the solution.” But if activists can raise awareness about WalMart’s labor abuses, Westin said, “People would find they don’t want WalMart in the neighborhood.”