Thousands Demand Living Wages For New Yorkers: A Closer Look
By Diane Krauthamer
November 19, 2010
On Wednesday, Nov. 17, nearly 100 clergy members from throughout New York City led a silent procession of congregations, community groups and union members to demand the City Council pass the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act.
“If developers and the rich benefit from our tax dollars, they should pay a wage that allows people to live with dignity, be able to feed their family and provide a safe, clean place to live,” said Re. Jesse T. Williams of the Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem. “It is a fundamental issue of social justice,” he added.
“By paying a living wage, we would allow all our residents the opportunity to improve their quality of life,” said Rev. Dr. Robert Waterman or Antioch Baptist Church in Brooklyn.
Wednesday’s procession began with a worship service at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, where the clergy gathered thousands of postcards signed by their parishioners in support of the Act. After the service, they led a silent procesion to deliver the postcards. Council Members Oliver Koppel, Brad Lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Fernando Cabrera and Letitia James greeted the clergy at the entrance of the Emigrant Savings Bank, where the City Council has been holding its monthly meetings while City Hall is under renovation. Meanwhile, hundreds of community and labor supporters rallied on the steps of Tweed Courthouse across the street, chanting “What do want? Living wages! When do we want them? Now!”
The procession sprang from the Living Wage Weekend (10.10.10), when 80 faith leaders included the moral message of economic justice in their services and thousands of congregants signed postcards to their City Council Members. The postcards call for the City Council to take a stand for economic justice and pass the Act. Twenty-eight (28) City Council Members have signed on in support of the bill.
"I am distressed by the number of our parishioners who are behind in their rent, deep in debt and working second jobs to try to catch up. Their children suffer from the lack of attention, the neighborhood suffers from unsupervised teenagers on the streets. Low wage jobs are a cancer in our community. City money must go toward creating jobs that pay a living wage," said Rev. Doug Cunningham of New Day United Methodist Church in the Bronx.
The bill requires that a living wage of at least $10 per hour with benefits be paid in publicly subsidized developments in New York City. Employees who are not covered by an employer-provided health plan will receive an additional $1.50 per hour wage supplement to help them purchase their own health insurance. Both the living wage and the health benefits supplement will be adjusted each year to keep pace with the rising cost of living.
“Our challenge is to make our city just for all to live in. The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act helps make that happen,” said Imam El Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid of the Mosque for Islamic Brotherhood.
Every year New York City spends approximately two billion taxpayer dollars, according to the latest available data, to subsidize development and create jobs. Too often the jobs created with these public subsidies pay poverty wages with no benefits—whether it's retail and stockroom jobs at shopping centers, mailroom jobs in office buildings, or food service jobs at stadiums.
More than 45 cities have enacted such legislation without adversely affecting economic development or economic growth. New York City is behind the times on this issue and, as a result, publicly subsidized developments are keeping people in poverty-wage jobs, rather than providing them with opportunities to get ahead.
The Living Wage NYC coalition is gearing up for a citywide day of action for living wages to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which will take place on Jan. 13, 2011.