A coalition of mall workers and San Jose State University college students are fighting to be heard at Westfield Valley Fair.
On Thursday, the group known as Low Income Versus Elite protested in front of the mall on Stevens Creek Boulevard against its employee parking fee policy. For retail workers who make minimum wage, having to pay almost $500 a year for parking is prohibitive, the group argues.
SJSU student Diana Lopez Bartolo said the parking costs are a hardship for students and low-income minorities who don’t have extra money.
“We have to stand up against this injustice for people who don’t have any voice,” she said.
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On Feb. 8, the mall started charging for parking. Employees have to pay $3 per day or $40 per month for a parking pass. For shoppers, the first two hours of parking are free and then it’s $1 per hour for a maximum of $10. The mall’s management said the fees are necessary to ensure spots are available for shoppers and to discourage people who aren’t shopping from using the lots. The shopping center has 8,400 parking spots.
Mall employees protested against the charges later that month. They said the cost of parking takes a bite out of their paychecks.
Sergio Gomez, a SJSU student who works at the Cheesecake Factory, said full-time students working part-time at the mall are already struggling financially.
“This parking fee is taking dollars from my education,” he said, adding that mall employees are demoralized.
Gomez told San José Spotlight he’s overwhelmed by rent, bills and tuition—and paying for parking on top of that is difficult. Although he likes his job and coworkers, he has started to look for work elsewhere.
“There are so many students who can only work part-time jobs,” he said. “Those are the people we continue to fight for.”
Westfield Valley Fair is charging for parking for both shoppers and retail workers. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.
An uphill battle
Located across from Santana Row, the mall serves high-end clients with luxury designer brands like Cartier, Gucci, Prada and Tiffany & Co. In March 2020, Westfield Valley Fair spent $1.1 billion on renovations, including fine dining, fire fountains and a digital district, including a two-level Apple store and online-only retailers.
Westfield Valley Fair management said in a statement it supports the rights of employees to voice their opinions, but remains committed to its controlled parking plan.
SJSU student Lesandra Urena told San José Spotlight living in Silicon Valley is already expensive, especially for students with second jobs, or those who have to provide for their families.
“It’s ridiculous that they’re trying to make a profit from workers who bring money into the mall daily,” she said.
Urena, who works at Vans at the Eastridge Center mall, pitches in at its Valley Fair location when additional staff is needed. She said with the parking fees, she wouldn’t be willing to do that in the future. As a student, she works part-time and struggles to pay for her education and basic needs, she said.
Scott Myers-Lipton, a sociology professor at SJSU, said having to pay for parking puts an incredible strain on students and is symbolic of the growing inequality between the haves and the have nots. He said the parking fee is not only a burden, but a matter of justice and should be stopped.
“Shoppers who come here from all over the valley… might not realize what $500 means to a working class student,” he said, “but it means a lot. It means food, it means books.”
Myers-Lipton said 75% of SJSU students are working, with 25% making minimum wage and others just above it—with many working at the mall.
“On top of food, gas, tuition, books, it’s asking every month they work to give up about a day’s pay to pay for parking,” he told San José Spotlight. “The clientele that come here are from the higher end… maybe they can afford it, but why are you asking the lowest paid folks to pay?”
Gomez said the students will continue fighting until free parking passes are available for all employees, paid for by the mall owners and management.
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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