Advocates ask, “Where is the jobs plan?”
Elmhurst, Queens, NY—Community, faith and labor leaders held a rally and press conference in front of the Queens Center Mall today to protest the use of taxpayer dollars to subsidize projects that do not create good jobs or broader community benefits. As part of a coordinated, five-city action from the statewide Getting Our Money’s Worth campaign, advocates gathered at wasteful development projects in their local communities, highlighted a new report, Seizing the Moment: How Regional Economic Development Councils Can Build a Good Jobs Economy, and called on state leaders to create a good jobs plan that improves upon current economic development outcomes.
The Elmhurst “hunt for the missing jobs plan” took place at a busy intersection at the Queens Center Mall, which has received $48 million dollars in property tax subsidies and provides mostly part-time, low-wage, no-benefit jobs. Dozens of advocates waved giant magnifying glasses and chanted “Where is the jobs plan,” and “Good Jobs Yes! Corporate Giveaways No!”
“The Queens Center Mall receives public subsidies even though it is one of the most profitable malls in the country,” said Isabel Encalada through a translator. An active member of Make the Road NY’s worker committee, she continued, “Instead of giving back to the community, they provide mostly poverty-wage jobs that don’t pay well enough to live in Elmhurst.”
Advocates called on state elected officials to put the issue of jobs on the state agenda. While the administration has proposed Regional Economic Development Councils as their new flagship jobs program, the councils have yet to be created and few details have emerged about their future mission and operation. After failing to find the missing jobs plan in a trip to the State Capitol in Albany last week, a diverse coalition went looking in Queens, but instead found examples of how New York’s current job creation efforts fail.
“Most of the workers at the Queens Center mall are paid at or slightly above the $7.25 federal minimum wage,” said Father Darrell da Costa of Queens Congregations United for Action. “We cannot overlook the working poor in our community who struggle with the low wages offered by employers at the Queens Center Mall.”
Although advocates pointed to the mall as an example of wasteful economic development, they also detailed some positive examples of economic development projects from the Seizing the Moment report.
“This report highlights both the bad and the good, demonstrating that New York has the opportunity to learn from successes at home and around the country when creating Regional Economic Development Councils,” said Nathalie Alegre, an organizer with ALIGN. “Alstom Transport and Noble Bliss Wind Farm in Western NY and Just Bagels Manufacturing, Inc., a small business in New York City, are just a few examples of the direction we need to move economic development efforts.”
The report also reviewed accountability policies in states like Minnesota and Connecticut, and transparency policies in Illinois and Wisconsin as models for the baseline criteria recommended in the report.
Rodney Bullock, a Queens resident, retail worker and member of the Retail Action Project stated, “As a retail worker, I know the difference it makes to earn a living wage and have a voice on the job.” He continued, “The Queens Center Mall should not be allowed to treat people so poorly and keep their big tax breaks.”
Speakers at the events emphasized that the opportunity to do economic development differently is not a luxury, but a necessity with unemployment high, wages depressed and communities suffering from budget and service cuts. …
“We need to start looking at what concrete benefits communities receive in return for subsidizing corporations and forgoing millions and billions of dollars in tax revenues each year,” said Jeff Eichler of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “We cannot let the Queens Center Mall become a model for economic development in New York’s new jobs plan.”
The Getting Our Money’s Worth Coalition is a broad coalition of public policy experts, government watchdogs, labor unions, community and religious organizations, and concerned small business owners, workers and taxpayers. The statewide coalition is anchored by ALIGN: The Alliance for a Greater New York and the Coalition for Economic Justice