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From Kingsbridge to Walmart
Crain's New York Business

April 28, 2010
View the Original Article

News that Walmart is considering the Related Cos.-owned Gateway II shopping center reprises the battle between the developer and a retail workers union over the Kingsbridge Armory last year.

Related would relish a little payback to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which got the City Council to kill Related's Kingsbridge mall over concerns about wages. Walmart wouldn't need council approval to open at Gateway II, so Related could exact revenge without giving members a chance to comment in any significant manner.

But the issue is less about revenge than about logic. To stay on good terms with organized labor, developers have refrained from bringing Walmart to the city even when council approval was not required. The goodwill came in handy when they brought other projects to the council. But Kingsbridge was one of those other projects. By rejecting it, the council—paradoxically—lost some leverage. Developers, having gotten the message the council won't stomach retail projects without “living wage” guarantees, now seem to have nothing to lose by courting Walmart.

Labor's dislike of Walmart is visceral. RWDSU promised a fight in an open letter yesterday from President Stu Appelbaum. “Yo Walmart: Fuhgeddaboudit!” he wrote. “New York City does not want you here.”

The union, as part of a campaign to mandate living wages at all subsidized projects, is even making a stink over subsidies given to the Queens Center Mall in 2002. “We're making people aware that they receive these subsidies,” says Jeff Eichler, coordinator of the retail organizing project for RWDSU. But he admits, “There's no leverage to change it at this time.”