SAN JOSE, Calif. - San Jose’s recently remodeled retail jewel – the Westfield Valley Fair Mall, contains more than 2 million sq. ft. of retail space, with new stores opening by the month, and thousands of shoppers browsing and buying annually.
And oblivious to most Thursday morning was the small demonstration that took place on the front sidewalk.
"We’re asking the lowest paid workers to foot the bill for an upscale mall," said Dr. Scott Myers-Lipton, a San Jose State University sociologist.
A handful of San Jose State students who work at the mall are outraged by what they say is inequity. That’s because part of their minimum wage salaries must cover fees for them to park at the mall during work hours.
"It’s really tough when trying to manage my finances efficiently. It’s taking dollars away from my education. It’s taking dollars away from my investments. And it’s taking dollars away from my future," said Sergio Gomez, a member of SJSU Low Income Versus Elite, a student organization that fights for social equality.
Valley Fair had an ongoing problem with non-shoppers parking on its site free for several hours. The incursion made it difficult for paying customers to park, which cost Westfield money.
So in February, a tiered pay-to-park system for shoppers and workers was introduced.
In an email to KTVU, Westfield Marketing Director Marie Menard said employees can purchase parking passes for $40 a month. Over the course of a year, that equals $480.
"I’m frustrated by it. Because, clearly, free parking is a traditional standard thing that goes with the job," said Dr. Robert Chapman Wood, a professor of strategic management at San Jose State University.
He said two factors are forcing retailers to pass along costs; one is an ever-increasing minimum wage and the other is inflation.
"Although prices are going up at the retail level in many cases, they’re not going up as fast as the wholesale prices are going up. That’s going to be with us for some time," said Wood.
The students vow to continue letting passers-by know not only does it cost to shop, it costs them just to come to work.
"I just want them to stand by those who are making them money at the end of the day," said Gomez.
He’s hopeful a meeting with mall management can be brokered to explain the impact of pay-to-park. The students are asking for free parking passes for employees.
Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay Bureau. Follow him on Twitter @JesseKTVU and Instagram @jessegontv