Shouts and chants expressing disapproval of the company and its track record with workers filled the frigid air as elected officials along with business leaders from all boroughs rallied to keep Walmart out of New York City, particularly East New York, where the company has its sights set.
The complaints against the company ranged from sexism to worker's rights, and many protesters were there to support small businesses, which they say could be forced out of business if Walmart comes to town.
“There are a lot of class action lawsuits pending now around the country because women have been paid significantly less than their male counterparts,” said Rachel Suissa, a worker with Brooklyn Queens Now, a national organization for women. “This is especially problematic for minority women.”
Dr. Robert Waterman, president of the African American Clergy and Elected Officials Organization, is afraid that if the City Council doesn't do their job, the company could still infiltrate his East New York neighborhood.
“If we allow Walmart to come into East New York and take over East new York, they will soon go to the Bronx, go to Manhattan and be all over the place, so what we have to do is make sure that this is not just a demonstration, peoples lives are being affected,” he told the crowd.
Small business workers, like Malcolm Durham, who works as a stock boy at Crown Heights National Food Plaza, is also concerned about Walmart's track record of paying their workers low wages.
“Any corporation that is not willing to pay fair wages to their workers doesn't deserve to be in the great city of New York,” he said.
Although there were many against the company, some came from as far as Pennsylvania to show support.
“I think a lot of the people that are against it are union people, they are politically driven,” said Rich, who did not want to give his last name. “I'm driven by my wallet.”
Those for Walmart stood on the opposite side of the street in front of the building where the hearing was to be held, voicing their support.
“Everybody says 'it's low-wage jobs' but guess what, we all started at low-wage jobs, everyone I know did,” said Heather Martarello of Long Island.
Shawn Williams of Lefrak City is the coordinator for Queens for the campaign for Walmart. “I only met one person that was against it,” she said, although she admitted she hasn't spoken to any business people.
“This will create relief in the street, people will be able to have a job,” said Mike Tucker of the Lay the Guns Down campaign. “Walmart is going to be able to hire people who were formerly incarcerated.”
In a hearing that lasted over three hours, the public sat in as panels pro and against Walmart made their case before the City Council.
The founder of the Hip Hop Summit Youth Council in Southeast Queens, Charles Fisher, along with Eduardo Giraldo of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Queens and East New York resident Tony Herbert, showed up in support of Walmart. Herbert displayed 30,000 signatures of people in favor of the store.
But they were the minority in a room packed with anti-Walmart sentiment from the public and the City Council.
“There are no slaves in East New York, and Walmart is nothing but a plantation,” said Councilman Charles Barron. “We want jobs with dignity, integrity and self respect.”
But while Barron disagrees with Walmart entering New York City, Councilman Eric Ulrich of Ozone Park supports the big-box store's entry into the city.
"“Walmart wants to come here and provide union construction jobs and permanent positions that offer pay wages equal to or higher than many of their competitors, and allow people to save substantially on their grocery bills," Ulrich said in a statement. "Why should my constituents - many of whom are on fixed incomes - pay more for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread? It’s not the job of politicians or special interests groups, especially in today’s economy, to block economic development.”
David Merriman, a professor from the University of Illinois, was reached via Skype at the hearing to show his findings on the effect on small businesses and communities affected by Walmart. His study, conducted on Chicago's west side, found that a business in the immediate proximity of Walmart had about a 40 percent chance of closing some time over a two-year period after Walmart opened.
Walmart did not show up to the hearing but issued a statement: “Our decision to not attend today's special interest rally has nothing to do with our willingness to answer questions - we do that every day here - and everything to do with the hypothetical nature of the proceedings and the fact that it ignored the impact of the hundreds of similarly sized stores that exist in the city today.”