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More Than 80 Congregations Unite for Living Wages

October 10, 2010

Faith Leaders Preach for Economic Justice as Momentum Grows for Fair Wages Act

At more than 80 congregations throughout New York City this weekend, faith leaders called for the City Council to take a stand for economic justice and pass the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act. Living Wage Weekend is part of a larger movement to raise wages throughout the city, starting with those working in publicly subsidized developments. Council Members, community and labor leaders participated in the weekend services.

"We are the moral conscience of our society," said Pastor Fernando Cabrera, Minister at New Life International Outreach Church, and a Bronx City Council Member. "We are standing up today, joining together and moving into action for economic justice. What we seek is moral and just: when public money is used to support private development, the public should expect something in return-good jobs with living wages."

“All those who work deserve dignity and a living wage,” said Rabbi Michael Feinberg of the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition. “Society rests on a contract of trust and equality between those who work and those who employ them.”

In his sermon at The Village Church of New York City, Rev. Peter Heltzel echoed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 speech to sanitation workers, in which Dr. King called it a “crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.” “New York City is a rich city. We can lead the way to King's dream. Now it’s our turn to step up, as clergy in New York, and take leadership on one of the great economic justice issues of our time,” Rev. Heltzel said.

The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act has received support from such influential religious groups as Clergy United for Community Empowerment, Queens Federation of Churches and The Baptist Ministers' Conference for Greater New York and Vicinity. Faith leaders said they hope this weekend’s events will move the City Council to action.

“This issue is important because the members of my congregation are facing economic challenges and a living wage would empower them to sustain and maintain a stable family which makes for a stable church , a stable community and a better quality of life everyone,” said Bishop Eric Figueroa of the New Life Tabernacle Church in Brooklyn.

At the services, congregants signed thousands of postcards to their City Council Members asking for them to pass the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act. This bill would require that a living wage of at least $10 per hour with benefits be paid in all publicly subsidized developments in New York City. A majority of City Council members have already signed on in support of the Act, and New Yorkers say that this will make a big difference in their lives.

“I can barely make ends meet,” said Morenike Dagbo, who has worked in retail for many years while supporting herself and assisting her family. “Education costs money, transportation costs money, food costs money and rent costs money. It is virtually impossible to afford all these things on a minimum wage.”

In conjunction with Living Wage Weekend, millions of people around the world participated in worship services in support of the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals to end poverty. This was in conjunction with the Micah Challenge 10.10.10, a campaign to end poverty.

“My congregation is not composed of wealthy people, we are working and low-income people. This is an issue that directly affects all of us,” said Imam Talib Abdur-Rasheed of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood. “It is important for our Council Member to speak out in support of this.”

More than 15 cities have enacted such legislation and have found that these policies create quality jobs for local residents without slowing growth. New York City is behind the times on this issue and, as a result, publicly subsidized developments are keeping people in poverty-wage jobs, rather than providing them with opportunities to get ahead. For more information on the Living Wage NYC campaign, visit http://www.livingwagenyc.org.