A coalition of mall workers and San Jose State University students fight for their voices at the Westfield Valley Fair.
On Thursday, the group known as Low Income Versus Elite demonstrated outside the mall on Stevens Creek Boulevard against its employee parking fee policy. For retail workers earning minimum wage, having to pay nearly $500 a year for parking is prohibitively expensive, the group argues.
SJSU student Diana Lopez Bartolo said parking fees are a hardship for low-income students and minorities who don’t have extra money.
“We must stand up against this injustice for people who have no voice,” she said.
On February 8, the mall began charging for parking. Employees must pay $3 per day or $40 per month for a parking pass. For buyers, the first two hours of parking are free, then $1 per hour for a maximum of $10. Mall management said the fee is necessary to ensure spaces are available for shoppers and to discourage non-shoppers from using the grounds. The mall has 8,400 parking spaces.
Mall employees protested the charges later that month. They said the cost of parking was taking a bite out of their paychecks.
Sergio Gomez, an SJSU student who works at the Cheesecake Factory, said full-time students working part-time at the mall are already struggling financially.
“These parking fees rob me of my education,” he said, adding that mall workers were demoralized.
Gomez told San José Spotlight he was overwhelmed with rent, bills and tuition — and it was hard to pay for parking on top of that. Although he loves his job and his colleagues, he started looking for work elsewhere.
“There are so many students who can only work part-time,” he said. “These are the people we continue to fight for.”
A difficult battle
Located across from Santana Row, the mall serves high-end shoppers 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 that it supports the right of employees to voice their opinions, but remains committed to its controlled parking plan.
SJSU student Lesandra Urena told the San Jose Spotlight that living in Silicon Valley is already expensive, especially for students with second jobs or those who have to support their families.
“It’s ridiculous that they’re trying to take advantage of workers who bring money to the mall daily,” she said.
Urena, who works at Vans at the Eastridge Center mall, steps in to her Valley Fair location when additional staff are needed. She said with the parking fees she would not be willing to do this 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 incredible pressure on students and symbolizes the growing inequality between haves and have-nots. He said parking fees are not just a burden, but a matter of justice and should be stopped.
“Buyers who come here from all over the Valley…may 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 work, with 25% earning minimum wage and others just above, many working at the mall.
“Besides food, gas, tuition, books, it’s asking every month that they work to give up about a day’s pay to pay for parking,” he said. in San Jose Spotlight. “The clientele who come here are from the high end…maybe they can afford it, but why are you asking the lowest paid people to pay?”
Gomez said the students will continue to fight until free parking passes are available for all employees, paid for by mall owners and management.
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]