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60 Congregations - Christian, Jewish and Muslim - Across City Demand Council to Pass Fair Wage Act
New York Daily News
Albor Ruiz

October 10, 2010
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Working people deserve to earn enough to be able to provide for their families.

Fair enough, isn't it?

Well, this is what a living wage is all about. Yet in New York, the most expensive city in the country, fairly compensating laborers seems to be too much to ask. Hundreds of thousands live paycheck to paycheck, having to decide between paying the rent or putting food on the family's table.

That's why today 60 congregations - Christian, Jewish and Muslim - throughout the five boroughs are, in unison, demanding the City Council pass the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act.

"I want to be clear that this is a moral question," said the Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, senior minister of Lemuel Haynes Congregational Church in Jamaica, Queens.

Yet, what Sekou finds truly unreasonable is that even jobs created with taxpayer subsidies very often pay poverty wages.

"Enormous amounts are spent on subsidies to projects that are not meeting the needs of our people," he said. "The Fair Wages Act would put an end to that."

The act came about after the Kingsbridge Armory struggle, an egregious example of what Sekou is talking about.

The plan was to build a gigantic shopping center in the former National Guard ammunitions warehouse in the Bronx. The city picked the Related Cos. to develop the project and granted $14 million in subsidies.

The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, a coalition of Bronx community groups, and some politicians, prominently Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., demanded that Related agree to require all prospective retailers to pay workers a living wage in exchange for the subsidies. The company refused, and the project died in April.

But out of the dispute emerged the Fair Wages Act, which would require a living wage of $10 an hour plus health benefits, or $11.50 without, on any development that includes a city subsidy.

The legislation was introduced in May by Bronx Democratic Council members Oliver Koppell and Annabel Palma. It currently has the support of more than half the Council members.

But it has incurred opposition from Mayor Bloomberg and the inaction of Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has her eyes set on a mayoral run and apparently doesn't want to upset the business community,

For Morenike Dagbo, a retail worker who struggles to support her family on $7.75 an hour, opposing the bill is unconscionable.

"I've done all the necessary things to become successful; I went to school and I worked countless low-wage jobs. I diligently support my family and attend to their needs. Nevertheless, I can still barely make ends meet," Dagbo said. "Workers need a living wage, and they need it now."

Hoping to build a veto-proof majority in the Council, those attending religious services at the congregations today will be asked to sign postcards to be sent to their Council members. The message is clear: "New Yorkers want and deserve to know that public investment will result in living wage jobs for their communities. As my representative on the City Council, I am asking you to pass the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act."

"We are going to push the Council, we are going to have 10,000 cards signed and delivered over the weekend," Sekou said. "And we are confident they will respond."

The sooner the better.