Yesterday there were more than 14 events in New York City in remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, reminding us that Dr. King’s call for racial and economic justice continues to be just as necessary and urgent as ever. On March 18, 1968, just weeks before he was killed, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed in a speech to striking sanitation workers, “You are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.” On April 4, 1968, King lost his life fighting for living wages.
Today, income inequality in New York is staggering. More than 25 percent of working people are on food stamps. Many of them are employed fulltime in low-wage jobs, especially in retail. An alarming number are adults who must work two or three of these jobs to support themselves and their households. Often these are folks with professional experience and education who never imagined they would be in this position. We are talking about people you may know and care about— neighbors and friends whose dreams of economic security have been replaced by the nightmares of basic survival. Meanwhile, the wealthiest 1 percent of New Yorkers (about 90,000) earn the same amount in one day as the 900,000 New Yorkers in deep poverty earn in a whole year.
This is why we need the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act now being considered by the New York City Council. The Act would require businesses that seek voluntary taxpayer subsidies from the City, primarily for large real-estate development projects like stadiums and shopping malls, to pay a living Wage ($10/hour with benefits or $11.50/hour without) to all the employees who work there.