Locals Shut Out of Jobs at East Harlem Mall After Failed Drug Tests
By Jon Schuppe
EAST HARLEM — East River Plaza is still falling short of goals to hire local residents because too many of the applicants failed drug tests, have criminal records or weren't interested in working part-time, a nonprofit recruiting firm reported.
The recruiting firm, STRIVE, released figures this month showing that 42 percent of the 573 people hired at East River Plaza's nine stores came from East Harlem. That's well below the 60 percent goal outlined in an agreement between the local community board and the mall's developer.
The new figures do not include Target, the mall's biggest retailer, which has not shared hiring information.
STRIVE representatives told DNAinfo that had the analysis included Target, the percentage of local hires likely would have been higher. They said the next step was to focus on helping more people with drug addiction and criminal records to become viable job candidates.
“We want to work with the community to do what is needed to raise that number,” said Lisa Stein, STRIVE's chief financial officer.
East Harlem's poverty and unemployment rates are among the city's highest.
The 42 percent figure is an increase from early last year, when the first couple of stores that opened at East River Plaza — Costco and Best Buy — hired just a third of its workers from East Harlem. That percent of local workers remained after Costco laid off 160 workers last January, citing lower-than-expected sales.
The mall has since added several new stores, including Marshalls, Target, Pet Smart, Kidstown, Old Navy and Bob’s Discount Furniture. Like Target, Old Navy has not released hiring figures, STRIVE said.
According to STRIVE's latest data, 47 percent of Costco's hires have been local. Best Buy hit 31 percent, and Marshalls reached 49 percent. The other, smaller, stores had local hiring rates ranging from 18 percent to 66 percent.
Community Board 11 has a three-year contract with STRIVE to recruit local residents, put them through training programs, and monitor the results.
Board chairman Matthew Washington said he was disappointed in the resuilts so far.
He noted that the local hiring goal, outlined in a non-binding agreement that allowed East River Plaza to accept late-night deliveries from trucks using residential streets, rises to 65 percent this year.
"Can we hit that year-two goal even though we missed the year-one goal by 20 percent? Ultimately, I believe that there is an opportunity to…reach our targets," Washington said. "But it will take a collective effort to get there."
He added, "We want [East River Plaza] to be successful for the community, so we have a strong interest in working with the developers and retailers to make it the best project it possibly can be."