By Courtney Gross
July 28, 2011
Things got heated with Councilman Charles Barron outside a closed door meeting in Brooklyn Thursday morning.
"They pay slave wages. They don't give you health care. They don't give you benefits. They hire you part time, so they are going to try to buy their way in," said Barron.
Inside, community leaders and representatives from Walmart sat down over sandwiches to discuss the mega-retailer's plans to come to East New York.
They are eyeing a Related Companies site less than three miles from Thursday's brunch.
It was invite-only. Barron and dozens of others, including the press, were kept out.
"We say no to Walmart," anti-big-box activists yelled.
Outside, Walmart opponents protested the exclusive event. Police stood guard.
"If Walmart is as good as they say they are, why are they having secret meetings? What do they have to hide?” said Maritza Silva-Farrell of the Alliance for a Greater New York.
Walmart officials say they want to have a dialogue with residents who have an open mind.
"They'd rather rely on misinformation, and for those folks that's fine. We'll agree to disagree. I think there's a good percentage of New Yorkers who are open to the conversation and those are the folks we want to chat with," said Steven Restivo of Walmart.
Those inside heard Walmart discuss living wages and whether workers would be unionized. Some answers they liked, and some they didn't.
"Once again, Walmart didn't really give us an answer. There were some responses that were lackluster, but there was a discussion," said Christopher Banks of East New York United.
Some see the discussion as good for the community.
"We're in need of jobs, and I'm not sure we can do a lot of discriminating right now," said Reverend Johnny Youngblood of Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church.
Some that came undecided left that way.
"We have not took a position to say that we are anti or we are for, but we are talking," said Nathan Bradley of Community Board 5.
Despite the community opposition, Walmart officials say they are intent on opening a New York City store. They expect to make an announcement soon.