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Advocates of 'Living Wage' Get Amen from MLK III
Crain's New York Business
Daniel Massey

April 4, 2011
View the Original Article

Son of slain civil right leader calls on City Council to raise minimum wage in NYC to $10 an hour, plus bennies, wherever businesses gained at least $100,000 in city subsidies.

Martin Luther King III marked the 43rd anniversary of his father's death Monday by endorsing a City Council bill that would mandate higher minimum wages—or what advocates call living wages—for jobs that result from city-subsidized projects.

Mr. King said in a statement that people often forget that his father was fighting for the rights of low-wage sanitation workers the day he was killed in 1968.

“In his view, it was both a moral necessity and a civil right that every working American should earn enough to live a decent life and not worry about basic survival,” said Mr. King III, who is chief executive of The King Center in Atlanta and sits on the board of the Drum Major Institute, a New York City-based liberal public policy group.

He called on Council members to add their names to the 29 who have already signed onto the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, which would compel employers at projects that receive $100,000 or more in subsidies to pay at least $11.50 an hour, or $10 an hour plus health benefits. He said that passage of the act in New York City could spur similar action across the country.

Supporters of the act, led by the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, were expected to hold rallies in the Bronx and Brooklyn on Monday, both to honor Dr. King's legacy and build support for the passage of the law.

At the Bronx rally, attendees will be asked to sign postcards to Councilman James Vacca, D-Bronx, urging him to support the bill. He's the only member of the Bronx Council delegation who has yet to sign onto the measure, which was introduced at the request of Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

A spokesman for Mr. Vacca said the councilman is waiting for a Council hearing on the measure, which is expected to be held later this month. “He wants to hear both sides and give it a fair hearing before making a decision,” the spokesman said.

The bill is still five votes shy of the supermajority needed to override a certain veto by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Administration officials have consistently argued that tying wage requirements to subsidies would squash development. Also, in recent weeks, the city's chambers of commerce have voiced opposition to the bill and have begun to formulate an opposition strategy.

The endorsement by Dr. King's son comes as both sides of the debate await results of a $1 million study on the feasibility of wage mandates commissioned by the city's Economic Development Corp. The study, by a Boston-based consulting firm, is expected to be released in the coming weeks.