Walmart protested once again
by Lisa A. Fraser
Jul 27, 2011 | 1388 views | 0 0 comments | 52 52 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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In spite of the sweltering heat, community activists from all across the five boroughs stood in solidarity last Thursday, July 21, as they rallied once more against retail giant Walmart setting up shop in the city.

The coalition, collectively known as Walmart Free NYC and made up groups including Long Island City-based Brand Workers United, Make the Road New York, Grant Workers International and New York Communities for Change, continued to put pressure on Walmart and developer, Related Companies.

Related has been said to be in talks with Walmart about bringing a store to the Gateway II development in East New York.

In addition to chants of “Walmart is hated, don’t be related,” protesters gathered outside of Related’s headquarters near Columbus Circle and issued a letter to the CEO of Related, Stephen M. Ross, denouncing the company’s plans to bring the big-box chain into New York City.

“If you partner with Walmart, you will be allowing this predatory employer to come in and potentially kill thousands of jobs and businesses in ways that will irrevocably damage our city and our economy,” the letter read.

The letter requested that Related Companies cease any negotiations with Walmart over sites in New York City, as well as disclose a list of sites where the company has been negotiating possible lease arrangements with Walmart.

It called for a meeting with East New York residents in a public forum to engage in dialogue and share plans for potential retailers at Gateway II.

It also called for Related to schedule a series of public hearings with New Yorkers across the five boroughs in areas such as Hunters Point South, Westside Yards, Bronx Gateway, Willets Point and other potential developments.

The letter claims that Related has ignored invitations to attend community board meetings and other public forums.

“It shows that Related doesn’t care to speak to the community, they feel that they can do what they want,” said Maritza Silva-Farrell, a senior organizer with Alliance for a Greater New York. “But we are here today to show them that we are holding them accountable.”

A spokesperson at Related said that the company did in fact meet with the local community board during the city’s land use review process, but they did not comment on whether or not Related would meet with the East New York community or any other in the future.

Farrell said that the coalition called and emailed Related in the days leading up to the protest requesting that the company meet with community leaders, but never received a response.

However, Related issued a statement saying that the Gateway II development “will expand on the enormously successful project that has already brought great economic benefits to this area and create hundreds of critical affordable housing units, thousands of needed construction jobs and permanent jobs” along with new economic activity for the area.

The protest comes on the heels of news that Related allegedly received a “sweetheart” deal on the Gateway II land, purchasing the land for less than one-half the originally agreed-upon amount.

Assemblywoman Inez Barron has requested that State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, conduct an audit of the transfer of land and the negotiated sales price.

Related agreed to pay $32.5 million to the state in March 2009, after the financial collapse, for 21 acres of the land in East New York. The 21 acres were to be used for residential and mixed-use development, primarily involving affordable housing. But soon the land was rezoned and decreased the amount of land available for affordable housing.

In a letter to DiNapoli, Barron alleges that one year later at the request of Related, the price of the state land, which was to be transferred for the retail portion, was modified after Related suggested that the price should be reduced due to the market downturn. The purchase price was then set at $14.5 million.

“It is imperative that we ensure that taxpayers are getting the best possible deal for this land,” wrote Barron.

Walmart has been under constant bombardment from opposition, who say that the retail giant discriminates against women and minorities, pays too little, fails to provide any substantial kind of medical insurance and forces anti-union policies upon its workers.

Recently, Walmart has been touting its positive contributions to the community, highlighting the recent action taken by the company to expand summer services for kids in New York City. The company dished out over $1 million in grants to provide access to learning programs and nutritious meals.

When reached, Walmart noted that it has not announced or signed any deals with New York City yet. The company did not have a comment on the recent protest.
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