November 22, 2011
By Marc Bussanich
On the eve before the City Council Committee Hearing on Living Wage Legislation, about a 1,000 people packed the pews at The Riverside Church to hear clergy, elected officials, retail workers and the lone labor leader, Stuart Applebaum, president of RWDSU, speak about how unconscionable it is for private developers and employers to receive tax-payer subsidies for economic development but can’t or won’t pay their employees a living wage.
The Living Wage NYC campaign started after the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, comprised of community groups and labor unions, successfully thwarted the city’s attempt to allow a developer to build a shopping mall within the Kingsbridge Armory without paying living wages.
The struggle to increase low-paid workers’ pay in retail to $10 an hour, or $11.50 an hour if health insurance is not provided, is almost two years old and the organization and its allies are hoping that Council Chair Christine Quinn allows The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act to come up for a vote tomorrow. According to the campaign, 29 out of 51 Council Members support the act.
Quinn recently spoke at an Association for a Better New York (ABNY) event about some of the initiatives the city is pursuing to diversify the city’s economy. She also told the audience that, “I’m here to tell you, we are not going to let the dream of the middle class disappear.”
But Malik Musah told The Riverside Church audience that after working in a shoe store for three years after immigrating to the United States, he couldn’t enter the middle-class ranks on the wages he was earning. Sheena Dixon worked as a security guard at Target for $8 an hour and said as a young worker she wasn’t working for pocket money to spend but to survive.
While Quinn said she is committed to preserving the middle-class dream, Council Member and lead sponsor of the fair wage act, Oliver Koppell, said that he’s hopeful, but not confident, that Quinn will allow the act to come up for a vote.
As if working tirelessly against business associations, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Partnership for New York City, trying to prevent passage of a living wage act isn’t hard enough, three city trade unions (DC 9 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades being one) came out against the fair wage act. Applebaum said, “I think it’s very unfortunate. I hope the unions that oppose the act gain an understanding of how important poorly-paid workers are to building solidarity within and growing the entire labor movement.”