The Fight for a Living Wage Continues
City officials, community activists, and leaders from the faith called for the passage of a living wage ordinance in New York City at an event at Brooklyn College on Thursday.
The event comes just days after Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced an April hearing on the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, with a specific date still to be set. The legislation would require a living wage of $10 an hour with benefits or $11.50 without benefits for all workers at projects benefiting from New York City tax subsidies or funding. It has already won support from a majority of the members of the council, but, as I reported for Campus Progress last month, the incredibly influential Quinn was slow to take a position on the issue.
The case for a living wage act also received a boost earlier this week from the release of an updated report by National Employment Law Project and two other nonprofits. The report, “An Overview of Job Quality and Discretionary Economic Development Subsidies in New York City,” found that the New York spends over $2 billion dollars annually on economic development—in large part to fund poverty-level employment. The report highlighted some of the non-managerial jobs at city-subsidized locations, including Yankee Stadium and a Fresh Direct warehouse, both of which have paid starting wages between $7.25 and $9.53 an hour.
“The government should not be in the business of subsidizing poverty,” New York Council member Jumaane Williams said at Thursday’s event. “It is pretty much that simple.”
The fight for good paying jobs New York City government supported projects is not just about ensuring a fair wage for working families, New York City Comptroller John Liu said, but also about making sure the city is spending its money wisely at a time when the city is facing budget deficits.
"Not only is it reasonable to expect that good jobs are created through these expensive taxpayer subsidies," Liu said at the event, "if city government did not do this, [they] would be derelict of their duties."
Members of the faith community, who have been central in organizing around the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, also attended Thursday’s event.
“In addition to a political issue, this is a spiritual issue,” Rev. Ray Rivera of the Latino Pastoral Action Center said, “You cannot talk about exploitation, you cannot talk about marginalizing people, without it having to do with [our faith].”
New York City is selling its workers short by subsidizing poverty wage jobs, said Bettina Damiani, Project Director at Good Jobs New York, a nonprofit that collaborated on this week’s report.
“We are not using these subsidies to create new industries or because create really good quality jobs because the private market can’t do it. We are asking private industry to do what they would do otherwise.” Damiani said.
“We’re New York City, we don’t need to subsidize minimum wage jobs, that is what really poor communities do that have nothing to offer. We have access to the best workers in the world [and] the best educational facilities in the world.”
George Warner is a staff writer with Campus Progress.
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