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Protesters Out to Support ‘Living Wage’ Bill

More than 100 people marched in New York on Thursday to show solidarity with the City Council as it prepared to overturn Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto.

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NEW YORK — More than 100 people marched to City Hall Thursday to show solidarity with the City Council as it prepared to overturn Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto of the living wage bill and move toward implementing it.

This story first appeared in the June 29, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The vote, which was slated to take place Thursday night, was still pending at press time. Bloomberg has threatened he would challenge the expected Council override in court.

Carrying signs such as “Now Is the Time,” “Veto Inequality,” and “Override Poverty,” the marchers represented a diverse group of workers from community-based organizations, the clergy and retail and labor unions. The living wage bill addresses raising the wages of workers who are employed at companies that receive $1 million or more in city subsidies to $11.50 an hour, or $10 an hour for those with benefits, opposed to the current state-mandated minimum wage of $7.25.

RELATED STORY: NY City Council Overrides Veto of Wage Bill >>

“I think there really needs to be reciprocity. Workers need to benefit,” said Ava Farkas, campaign coordinator of Living Wage NYC, before the march began. “A lot of adults work in these jobs. It’s a myth that these jobs are just teenagers.”

The march, which weaved up Williams Street toward City Hall, was disciplined and nonviolent. “It’s clear who we’re declaring our protest to. [Mayor Bloomberg] is the 12th richest man in this country and refuses to pay a living wage. It’s the power of the people. Let’s march with grace and respect,” said Peter Heltzel, director of the Micah Institute at New York Theological Seminary, speaking to the crowd.

Marching in the crowd was Reuben Traite, a lead organizer with New York Communities for Change. “We’re targeting large-scale developers who have over $5 million in annual profit and are getting over $1 million in subsidies.” Carrie Gleason, executive director of Retail Action Project, added, “The retail industry is growing, but the value of the wage is declining.” She said there needs to be a change in public policies.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which built the coalition and ran the Living Wage campaign, told WWD, “I think we’re making an important statement. Working people need to be making living wages,” he said. He noted that public money is going to private developers, and the public needs to get something in return. “I’m confident in a day that health care is affirmed, I believe Mayor Bloomberg’s selfish veto will be overturned.”

During the press conference, Appelbaum said, “By overriding Mayor Bloomberg’s veto, the City Council is siding with the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers who want this legislation to move forward.…New Yorkers have made their voices heard: they want government to invest in more living wage jobs. There is broad and diverse agreement that investing in a higher-wage economy is good for business, good for working people, and good for our economy. The living wage movement, the RWDSU, New Yorkers across the city — all of us — are committed to ensuring that working people no longer live in poverty. That’s our shared vision for the future, and this legislation can help us make it a reality.”

Among some of the retail projects that have received city subsidies are the Queens Center Mall, the Bronx Gateway Mall and the Hudson Yards project. The latter is the only one impacted by the bill, since the others have already been built and the bill is not retroactive.

A spokesman for the RWDSU said the bill was focussed on the future and the next mayoral administration, where they feel it can have significant impact. “Based on discussions with experts, we’re fully confident the bill will withstand any legal challenge.”

Council member Oliver Koppell said there needs to be justice between those with power and those with modest means. “Where we use the public’s money, there’s got to be jobs that pay a decent wage,” he said. “This is one of the most dramatic and exciting events.…If this [Living Wage] Coalition stays together, we will bring it further.” He said the mayor’s veto “is illogical and makes no sense and is not supported by fact.” He said paying decent wages will not discourage development in the city. He noted that Speaker Christine Quinn supports the legislation “as a result of the tremendous effort of the coalition.”

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