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Fair Wages For New Yorkers: Time for a New New York City!
Huffington Post
Rev. Peter Goodwin Heltzel, Ph.D.

October 5, 2011
View the Original Article


The Bloomberg administration released a flawed economic study today that is critical of the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act. It is immoral that our billionaire mayor used a million dollars of taxpayer money -- that's money from the pockets of poor, working New Yorkers -- to pay for a study that tells them that they don't deserve a living wage!

This study is an expression of the moral contractions that remain in one of the richest cities in the world. Mayor Bloomberg continues to provide tax subsidizes for big business on the backs of the poor of our city.

After buying a third term as Mayor, Mayor Bloomberg continues to run the city according to a logic of mammon instead of a logic of love. The Jewish, Islamic and Christian scriptures are clear that we need to formulate policies that privilege the perspective of the poor. Inspired by the teachings of the Hebrew prophets, Jesus of Nazareth reminds a wealthy leader of his day, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:40, NRSV). The least of these in our day, include poor, low-income workers in New York City.

As a minister in Manhattan, I can see firsthand the suffering of parishioners and families in our community as a result of the economic crisis. My church's Saturday lunch program grows bigger toward the end of the month, as parents bring their children in for a hot meal, because they don't earn enough money to cover all their monthly food expenses. Living wage jobs, jobs that pay $10 an hour with benefits, or $11.50 without benefits, would help New York's families pay rent, put bread on the table, and continue to be pillars of our community.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Justice delayed is justice denied." Mayor Bloomberg's study is a stall tactic, but as faith leaders, we are not buying it. Bloomberg refuses to heed the cries of the working people of New York City. New York has the opportunity to become a national leader in the nationwide movement for a living wage. Does Mayor Bloomberg want to be remembered by history as a political leader who refused to listen to cries of low-income families or a courageous moral leader committed to economic justice for all?

I call on Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Christine Quinn, and all the members of the New York City Council to do what is right and good--pass the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act. New York residents cannot live on $7.25 per hour or just over $15,000 a year. This legislation would guarantee that workers in large development projects that receive taxpayer-funded subsidies will be paid at least the New York Living Wage of $10 an hour plus benefits or $11.50 an hour without benefits. Indexed to inflation, this living wage would keep pace with cost of living increases. If developers are going to receive subsidies from our tax dollars, they should create jobs that are just and fair.

As Bloomberg cements his legacy of aiding the rich at the expense of everyone else, the Living Wage Campaign is taking to the streets and joining the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators in our shared struggle for a new economic order. The movement for economic justice has gained traction in our city! New York City's time has come.

In his speech, "I See the Promised Land," delivered the night before he was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee, fighting for a living wage for sanitation workers, Dr. King proclaimed, "It's all right to talk about 'long white robes over yonder, ...'. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It's all right to talk about 'streets flowing with milk and honey,' but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's all right to talk about the New Jerusalem, but one day, God's preacher must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do."

Our theology of heaven must make a difference on earth. Our faith in God must remain relevant to this world--and that means relevant to this world's cities and their concrete social, economic, and ecological problems. We are in an economic crisis, but crisis creates opportunities for change. I can hear King's voice now, calling us to a new New York City! I call on faith leaders around the country to stand with the low-income workers of our city, creating an unbreakable coalition of religious leaders, labor leaders and community leaders for economic justice. Together we can achieve the victory--the passage of the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act. And like a prism refracting a beam of light, the movement for economic justice in New York City will be seen in a thousand cities around the world!