Earning Potential: NAACP Joins Push For Living Wage Increase

ben JealousThe minimum wage in New York City is $7.25 an hour. Yet of?about 317,000 low-wage workers in New York City, about one in five of these workers are paid less than the legally required wage, according to the National Employment Law Project?s recent report which surveyed 1,432 low-wage workers in New York City, titled ?Working Without Laws: A Survey of Employment and Labor Law Violations in New York City.???

An organization called New York City Living Wage is looking to enact a new living wage ordinance instead of a minimum wage to match the living wage and the NAACP has joined the cause.

A living wage is a wage, which is based upon the cost of living in an area. Current NYC legislation defines a living wage in New York City as a minimum of $10 per hour with benefits, or $11.50 per hour without benefits. Compare this to the current minimum wage and the discrepancy is obvious. The organization and NAACP want a new living wage law passed that will require that any company receiving city contracts or subsidies must pay its workers a wage above the federal minimum. In 2002, New York City passed a living wage law but it only covers a limited number of workers, and does not apply to employees who work in privately owned, publicly subsidized developments, such as stadiums, convention centers and shopping malls.

“A living wage is needed by many?for basic?survival. A country is judged by the manner in which it treats its most?vulnerable groups.?America is beginning to take on the traits of England during the Industrial Revolution – everyone for themselves – and the weakest are left behind. As we enter?the Christmas holidays, politicians and the wealthy in this country may need to be visited by the three ghosts from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Story,” notes civil rights expert Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, associate professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center of the CUNY.

On November 21, the organization held a rally, with the support of NAACP CEO and President?Benjamin Todd Jealous,?to support a city council bill that would require companies that get city subsidies to pay their workers at least $10 an hour plus benefits and better pay than the state?s minimum wage. NYC Mayor Bloomberg opposes the bill, which has the backing of most city council members. The Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III also support the new bill.

?I am proud to support the NAACP New York Metropolitan Council of Branches as they campaign for fair wages for all New Yorkers,? says Jealous. ?New York is our largest city. We cannot achieve economic security for America until we achieve it for all New Yorkers. Today, nearly two million New Yorkers rely on food stamps to survive, and African-Americans and Latinos suffer from poverty disproportionately. Reducing poverty and inequality in our cities has always been at the heart of the NAACP’s economic agenda and the economic agenda of the civil rights movement. The fact that so many people are still counted among the working poor is a stain on our collective conscience, and it will not be washed away until we create more living wage jobs in New York City and nationally.???

Having the backing of the NAACP is a major push, observes Browne-Marshall. “The support of a venerable civil rights organization such as the NAACP is?important because of its long history of advocacy,? she says. The issue is a perfect fit for the NAACP, adds Browne-Marshall. “Economic issues have long been under the umbrella of civil rights. A. Phillip Randolph, who led the Black railroad porters,?and many other civil rights icons protested for civil?rights,?equal pay, and access to good jobs.?During World War II, the civilian defense plants were?desegregated before the military because?civil rights leaders rallied against the racial segregation that kept Blacks from?those jobs. The March on Washington in 1963 was a “March for Jobs and Freedom.”?Dr. Martin Luther King,?Jr.’s social justice protest included a Poor People’s Campaign. Dr. King was assassinated while?in Memphis?supporting the sanitation workers’ strike.?The advancement of colored people means economic?as well as educational and social advancement.?Increasing the take home pay of the working poor will assist all people struggling financially, including people of color.