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Judy Haiven: Mall madness

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The Halifax Shopping Centre is open for business.  A few years ago I did a study  about who works at that mall. It showed that more than 1400 people worked in the retail stores and the food court. Wages are low, generally within a dollar of minimum wage – which will be $12.55/hr starting April 1. Today’s minimum wage is $11.55 per hour.

Despite campaigns by Facebook friends who ask that we phone mall management and demand they close in the wake of Covid-19, mall operators Toronto-based Cushman & Wakefield Asset Services Inc. insist the mall must stay open. 

As a retail worker Andrew Donatelli posted on the mall’s Facebook (FB) page notes: “Majority of the stores are closed which is pushing traffic into our stores that still remain open. You are comprising [compromising] our health and prove to the employees of the mall yet again that you do not care about our health. With the little amount of cases we currently have, we have an enormous privilege right now to contain ourselves and not risk mass spread, but it’s nice to see you’ll sell out people’s lives for some money.”

Of course many stores have closed. But that has the effect of pushing people into the stores that remain open As Amanda Parris wrote on the mall’s FB site “… but risk– all the workers who have no choice to come to work cuz u guys can’t do the right thing and close– this is ridiculous the mall doesn’t care about ppl. How many times I have risked my life for work is ridiculous.”

 The retail sector’s motto may as well be “anything for a buck”. Check out the advertising flyers in your newspaper on Wednesdays or Thursdays. Canadian Tire is open, as is Bass Pro Shops, and Staples. It’s not a good news story for the staff which is stuck there, facing the lineups at the cashiers’ check-outs.

I suppose Canadian Tire and Bass Pro Shops are providing a service to women in Halifax. With the men home 24/7, there has been a rise in violence in the home. Encouraging men in their sweat pants to drive to Canadian Tire, and wander around the aisles for a couple of hours might be a health bonus, even a kind of reprieve in these times.

Though we have no Canadian figures yet, in China there was a dramatic increase in domestic violence as millions in Hubei province – not far from Wuhan —  were under “lockdown” (total isolation) for more than 70 days. 

Not just the Halifax Shopping Centre, but also Dartmouth Crossing is open. While 90% of its retail stores are closed, Home Depot, Dollarama, Kent Building Supplies, Pet Smart and Ren’s Pets remain open. Of course all of the restaurants and bars respect provincial government orders, and offer take-out meals only. There’s no table service allowed. 

On the Mic Mac Mall website there is a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs). This one caught my eye:

“Is it safe to go to the mall? What measures have you implemented at your centre to deal with COVID-19?

Answer:  “Over the last few weeks, a series of preventive measures were implemented at the property, including educating tenants and visitors on respiratory and handwashing hygiene. We have also ensured that the hand soap dispensers and the hand sanitizer dispensers were properly filled at designated locations on our property. We have increased the frequency of housekeeping practices in the common areas of our property and all cleaning products follow the recommendations for cleaning COVID-19 in the workplace.” Despite their superhuman cleaning efforts, a cheery customer service rep told me today that the only businesses open are two banks, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Showcase “Home of the Hottest Trends”. Shoppers are only permitted on the mall’s main floor, not the other floors.

 The workers in the malls and stores are providing a service. But of course most of what’s open is nowhere near essential – Showcase, Home Depot, banks and Canadian Tire are putting their low-wage workers at considerable risk. But the employees are stuck and need to earn.  They are justifiably afraid to lose the jobs they have if they refuse to work in the mall.

However, you retail and bank workers deserve praise and our thanks.  You are risking your own health to provide comfort to the rest of us. 

Judy Haiven is on the steering committee of Equity Watch, a Halifax-based organization which fights bullying, racism and discrimination in the workplace. You can reach her at equitywatchns@gmail.com

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