Brooklynites gear up for ‘Warmart’

City subsidy not ‘Square’: activists
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

Residents are hailing reports that Walmart is looking for its first Brooklyn location — even as critics of the big-box store are preparing to fight back the retail Golaith famous for its “low, low prices” and, some say, low, low wages.

Under the rumored deal, Walmart would lease space at the planned Gateway II shopping center at Jamaica Bay off Shore Parkway at Erksine Street. The City Council already approved the plans for the shopping center, meaning Walmart could move in by simply signing a lease.

“People are very happy about it,” said Marie Purnell, former president of the Spring Creek Towers Tenants Association, which is across the street from the Walmart. “It was all the talk at last night’s Democratic Club meeting.”

But labor unions, local elected officials and community organizers are vowing to marshall their forces to keep the controversial big-box chain out of the city.

“They will have fight of their lives if they try to bring Walmart out here. It’s not going to happen,” said Councilman Charles Barron (D–Canarsie). “No one exploits workers more than Walmart. To exploit workers the way they do is unconscionable.”

Barron, however, may have a tough time finding support among the 15,000 residents in Spring Creek Towers — many of whom drive out of the city to shop at Walmart, according to Purnell.

“A few people mentioned that there would be a possibility of jobs here if Walmart came. The fact that they are non-union didn’t even come into the conversation,” said Purnell. “People are desperate for jobs and what is not now on their top priority list is whether something is union or not.”

And the fight over Walmart’s supposedly low wages has changed now that the Behemoth of Bettonville is paying better.

According to the Walmart Web site, full-time workers at its stores in New York make an average of $12.03 per hour, and the company contributes four percent of workers pay to their combined Profit Sharing and 401(k) Plan.

For now, Walmart is not saying anything.

“We do not have a project to announce anywhere within the five boroughs of New York City,” said Steven Restivo, Walmart director of community affairs. “However, we know that New Yorkers want to shop and work at Walmart and as a result, we continue to evaluate potential opportunities here.”

Related spokesperson Joanna Rose said the company has not signed a single lease for Gateway II and there are no plans for construction at this time.

“The time line will be determined by tenant and financing commitments,” Rose said.