June, 2015

Taking the High Road: Report Shows How New York City Can Create Thousands of Good Quality Retail Jobs through Neighborhood Rezoning

With Bold Action and Leadership on High-Road Retail, Mayor de Blasio Can Ensure that His Ambitious Rezoning Plan Succeeds, Walmart-Free NYC Says Today in Major New Report

New York, NY— So far, discussion of Mayor de Blasio’s rezoning plan has focused on affordable housing, but a major new report unveiled today shows how and why city government should also prioritize the creation of thousands of good quality retail jobs in rezoned neighborhoods.

The report, Taking the High-Road: How the City of New York Can Create Thousands of Good Retail Jobs Through Neighborhood Rezoning, was developed by Walmart-Free NYC with policy experts, coalition partners and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) / Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

It’s the first of its kind to present a specific policy roadmap aimed at influencing the quality of the jobs that will be created by the numerous retail tenants expected to move into the ground-floor commercial spaces in developments planned for rezoned neighborhoods across the city.

The report is the opening salvo of a larger grassroots organizing and policy campaign to spur the creation of high-road retail jobs in neighborhoods that will be rezoned across the five boroughs.

High-road retailers treat their workforce as their most important asset. They know that a successful business model ensures that employees, owners, and communities can thrive. They offer their workers a combination of living wage jobs with benefits, stable full-time schedules, ample training and career advancement opportunities, along with the freedom to form a union.

The threat of low-road retailers like Walmart exploiting the rezoning process to enter New York City is very real, the report shows. Walmart has tried to enter the five boroughs several times in the past and its business model depends on more expansive growth in urban markets. But the de Blasio administration has powerful tools at its disposal to keep low-road retailers out, and to bring high-road retailers into rezoned areas in order to create good quality jobs for residents.

“It’s no secret that New York City is in the grips of a terrible affordability crisis. It’s getting harder and harder for working people to afford to live here. Retail is one of the fastest-growing sectors of our city’s economy, and we want to ensure that future retail jobs in rezoned neighborhoods strengthen the lives of local residents and families. Our communities deserve much better than Walmart and other low-road retailers. Mayor de Blasio has a history of opposing Walmart and fighting for good jobs. We want him to take bold action and show that his administration is fully committed to making our city a leading high-road retail city,” said Audrey Sasson, Director of Walmart-Free NYC, a large and diverse coalition of community-based groups, retail workers’ unions, workers, clergy, and policy advocates.

Walmart-Free NYC emphasized today that their campaign will respond to the fact that the character and style of high-road retail stores can vary neighborhood by neighborhood. High-road refers to the quality of the jobs, but it can include and cover all types and sizes of retail stores, broadly defined, and help preserve economic diversity and neighborhood character.

“Each neighborhood that is rezoned may create a different and unique mix of high-road retail, depending on what residents and local leaders want. As commercial tenants, larger retailers can coexist with smaller businesses that operate as local merchants and are firmly rooted in the community.  A diverse range of retail businesses can be considered high-road so long as they meet the same core criteria on wages, benefits, hours, and overall job quality,” said Sasson.

“Implementing high-road retail will require leadership and commitment from Mayor de Blasio and his economic development team. City government has enormous power and discretion to get this done and make it work. Our report highlights a number of pragmatic policy tools and mechanisms that can be used to advance high-road retail throughout the city.  In neighborhood rezoning efforts, the de Blasio administration can and should make it clear to developers that it is crucial to incorporate each community’s vision for high-road retail into new projects. Every rezoned neighborhood can strike a balance among many different options for high-road retail,” said Josh Kellermann, ALIGN, the lead author and researcher who developed the report.

“Though I support Mayor de Blasio’s effort to rezone and create a stronger housing community in East New York and Cypress Hills, I am also committed to ensuring the City does everything it can to bring more responsible employers into our neighborhoods. For local residents to continue to afford to live here, they need greater access to high quality jobs that pay living wages and provide real career paths. Affordable housing is only affordable if people earn enough to pay the rent. I’m proud to work with Walmart-Free NYC and their partners in this important campaign to create a high-road retail city that will benefit all of us,” said City Council Member Rafael Espinal, who represents District 37, which includes part of East New York, Brooklyn, the first neighborhood to be rezoned as part of Mayor de Blasio’s Housing New York plan.

“I want my family to continue to live in East New York, but we are struggling to get by and concerned about the future. It’s getting tougher and tougher to afford the rent, bills, and basic cost of living. My community needs more good-paying jobs with living wages, and a path to stable careers that will help us afford to stay here. I’m glad to be involved in this campaign to bring more good quality jobs and pro-union employers to our city,” said Rachel Rivera, member of New York Communities for Change.

“Development in this city must be about more than just profits for developers.  It needs to be about creating good permanent jobs.  Unionization has a proven track record of improving the quality of jobs, especially in sectors like retail, and we want to see workers living in neighborhoods that will be rezoned gain access to the best jobs. Ensuring that more high-road retailers come into rezoned neighborhoods will improve the lives of thousands of New Yorkers.  It’s good for workers, it’s good for the neighborhoods where new development occurs, and its ultimately good for the entire city,” said Dave Mertz, New York City Director of Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), UFCW.

“Having a union job has made all the difference in my life. My union is the reason I get a living wage, a fair schedule, good benefits, and real respect on the job. Workers, families, and communities are stronger when more union jobs are created. That’s why I’m getting involved in this important campaign for high-road retail. We don’t want Walmart and other irresponsible employers bringing poverty-wage jobs here. At a time when New York City is getting more and more expensive for working people, the Mayor should focus on bringing more pro-union employers to our neighborhoods,” said Roxanna Forbes, an East New York resident who works at the local ShopRite and is a member of UFCW Local 1500.

“We’re in real danger of losing New York City as a place where working people can continue to live, raise families, and pursue their dreams. Too many of the new jobs being created here are low-wage and nonunion, and we want to change that. The Walmart business model of low-wages and erratic, part-time hours has harmed countless people. New Yorkers deserve much better. That’s why we’re urging Mayor de Blasio to support our high-road retail agenda and ensure that the rezoning process gives thousands of New Yorkers better economic opportunities and better jobs. This high-road retail campaign is meant to help create a stronger and fairer New York City for everyone. We are working with a number of community allies, partners, and leaders in this exciting effort,” said Ed Lynch, Special Assistant to the Director of UFCW International, Region 1.