May 19, 2011
Dear Mayor Bloomberg,
I write on behalf of the proud retail workforce in New York City, whose members are skilled, mostly work full time and in many cases serve as their family’s sole provider. By wrongly characterizing and dismissing retail workers as teenagers in their first jobs, you are doing a vast disservice to what is an overwhelmingly low paid, diverse, and heavily immigrant adult workforce whose members are struggling to support themselves and their families.
I implore you, as mayor of our great city, to stop turning a blind eye to the plight and reality of some of our city’s hardest working residents. I also would like to clarify the facts about New York City’s retail workforce, as outlined by the Fiscal Policy Institute in a landmark report entitled Low Wages, No Bargain: Retail Jobs in New York City:
More low-wage workers in New York City are employed in retail than in any other single sector of the local economy.
78 percent of all retail workers in New York City are 25 and older; and half of all retail workers are 35 and older.
Only 22 percent of people working in retail are under 25.
Retail workers’ earnings contribute significantly to their families’ incomes. On average, retail workers in New York City contribute 60 percent of their families’ earned income. For families with children, the average contribution is 56 percent. Over one third (36 percent) of retail workers are their family’s sole provider, and the figure is nearly as high (32 percent) in families with children.
It is our hope that rather than dismissing these workers as just seeking pocket change, you will begin to acknowledge that pocket change wages are hurting our city’s families and futures. We have the power to change this, and it begins in City Hall.
The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act will help lift retail workers out of poverty. As you know, the proposed legislation would establish a living wage for workers in large taxpayer subsidized development projects. Similar legislation is already successfully in effect in a number of cities and municipalities across the country. Workers in those cities earn more and there has been no adverse impact on job creation or development.
There is no evidence of developers and companies refusing to comply with these laws or trying to repeal them. The facts and numbers prove that once a living wage law is implemented, developers and employers comply and continue to invest in cities and create good jobs. We have proven this right here in New York City with major development projects in Greenpoint-Williamsburg, Willet’s Point and Coney Island moving forward with wage standards.
The debate about living wage legislation is really a debate about what kind of city we want New York to be. Do we want to be a city where people who go to work each day at an honest job are able to support themselves and their families; or a city where hard working people are condemned to lives of poverty while the income disparity between rich and poor continues to grow? I think we all know the answer.
It is my hope that this letter helps set the record straight about our retail workforce, as well as the real and pressing needs of thousands of New York City’s working families.
Stuart Appelbaum, President Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), UFCW