“HEY! HEY! HO! Ho! Parking fees have got to go,” chanted workers protesting in front of the Westfield Valley Fair mall on Sunday.

Employees of Westfield Valley Fair are fighting over newly-enacted parking fees at the high-end retail center announced by mall management in January. Employees are forced to pay $3 per day or $40 per month for a parking pass. Retailers were told they could purchase parking passes for employees.

For shoppers, the first two hours of parking are free and then $1 per hour for a maximum of $10. The movie theater provides parking validation for up to four hours.

The protest, which drew about two dozen people at the mall entrance on Stevens Creek Blvd., was the latest attempt by the mall’s workers to combat the parking fees they say will take a bite out of their paychecks. Mall leaders, however, say the new fees are necessary to ensure spots are available for shoppers and discourage others from using the mall’s lots.

Pierre Truong, who works at Men Oh Ramen, was one of the protesters Sunday shouting, “Paying for parking is not fair! Stop Wage Theft!” while waving his sign. He’s angry that the luxury mall — which is owned by Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, a French commercial real estate company — appears to be profiting off its employees.

“A lot of people who work here don’t have much money to begin with,” Truong said. “Now we have to pay just to work? Most of us are young people in high school and college just trying to get by.”

(Video reported and produced by Newsha Naderzad/San Jose Spotlight)

Antonio Garcia, a supervisor at Diesel clothing store, said it isn’t fair to make workers absorb this fee. He launched a petition against the new policy, which has garnered more than 1,000 signatures so far, and organized the street protest Sunday.

Garcia hopes once they get patron support, mall management might have a change of heart. He said with many small stores and restaurants being understaffed, part-timers are working five days a week for only a couple of hours a day, earning minimum wage.

“How are they taking $40 a month from us?” he said, “That’s wage theft.”

People honked their horns and passersby shared their support. Westfield Valley Fair management, however, said the decision benefits shoppers by making parking more accessible.

“We support the right of employees who work at the center to voice their opinions, but we remain committed to our controlled parking plan,” a spokesman for the mall said in a statement.

Mall workers, including Pierre Truong (middle) and Ky Suntay (right), are protesting having to pay to park where they work. (Photo by Lorraine Gabbert/San Jose Spotlight)

The new parking fees went into effect on Feb. 8.

The mall’s management said the controlled parking plan ensures “customers have the convenient parking access they deserve.” They said the plan is part of a broader focus on security, designed to deter use of Valley Fair parking lots by non-shoppers. A Westfield study showed 80 percent of customer visits are typically completed within a two-hour time frame and would be unaffected by the new plan.

But Mak Aruta Konefal, an organizer with the Pilipino Association of Workers and Immigrants, said the mall administration is exploiting workers — many of whom were essential workers during the pandemic.

“It is absolutely about corporate greed,” she said. “This mall is an incredibly rich mall, serving rich, tech corporation, Tesla-driving people. On the flip side are poor workers and wage theft.”

Ky Suntay, who works at Abercrombie and Fitch, said although $40 might not sound like a lot for the people shopping there, it is for those making minimum wage. Manning a bullhorn, she asked mall patrons waiting at the crosswalk to sign the petition and stand with the workers.

“Why are they charging workers when the mall would be shut down without us?” she said. “The mall makes millions in revenue annually, yet they want to put this burden on us because they want to make more profit.”

Ky Suntay (right) speaks with other workers protesting the new parking fees for employees of Westfield Valley Fair. (Photo by Lorraine Gabbert/San Jose Spotlight)

Garcia said the next step is to ask patrons to boycott all local Westfield-owned malls on busy weekends.

Viet Ngo, owner of Vietnoms eatery, said he and his team will protest every weekend until the issue’s resolved.

“Next time, there will be even more people,” he said. “We’re going to keep that momentum going.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at lorrainegabbertsjspotlight@gmail.com.

This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.