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Vacca Pressured to Support Living Wage Bill
The Examiner
Billy Wharton

April 11, 2011
View the Original Article


It took a while, but the protest politics that have grown out of the economic downturn of 2008 finally made an appearance in the Northeast Bronx today. About 40 people from the Living Wage NYC campaign descended on the East Tremont Avenue office of City Councilman James Vacca today in order to deliver hundreds of postcards that called for him to support the Living Wage Bill.

The mini-march through the Westchester Square area was a follow up to a mass meeting held at Bronx Pentecostal Deliverance Center last week that drew hundreds. Most of those in the crowd today, including about a dozen constituents of Vacca, had attended the mass meeting.

Vacca stands out as the only Council member in the Bronx who has not endorsed the Living Wage Bill. He has been visited by smaller groups of supporters from labor organizations and the clergy twice before. In those meetings, he expressed concerns about the enforcement of the bill on small businesses and non-profits. Since then, the movers of the bill have amended the proposal to exclude smaller businesses, including non-profits, from its regulations.

The Living Wage Bill calls for a wage of $10 an hour with benefits and $12 an hour without for all workers employed by companies that receive subsidies from New York City. The primary target of the legislation is large fast food companies and retailers whose wages consistently fall below the living wage criteria, despite the public subsidies.

Supporters point to the fact that New York spends more than $2 billion in taxpayer money on economic development and job creation. Much of this money goes to large corporations who, in turn, produce low wage jobs.

A slightly uncomfortable aide to Vacca, Bret Collazzi, received the Living Wage activists. Collazzi claimed that the Councilman was “still struggling with the issue” and “would wait to see how the hearings went” before making a decision about supporting the bill.

The answer touched a nerve with activists in the room since getting a hearing in the City Council has been a major stumbling block for the campaign. At first, Council Speaker Christine Quinn claimed that she would oppose a hearing. She has since relented, but continues to foot-drag on the exact scheduling. Supporters view Vacca’s endorsement as a part of the process of securing a hearing for the bill.

Minister Danny Diaz of the Love Gospel Assembly reminded Collazzi that Vacca’s legacy would be defined by his position on this issue. Constituents from the area praised Vacca’s track record, but were puzzled, and some infuriated, by his refusal to support this bill.

Clearly Collazzi, and by extension Vacca, is unaccustomed to this style of protest politics. For many years, the Northeast Bronx has been a sleepy political area – the occasional constituent complaint coupled with the usual photo opportunities and the pressing of the flesh.

The Living Wage campaign threatens to upset this political passivity. And in doing so, win a little more justice for people struggling to deal with a recession that has enriched the banks and Wall Street, but left working people behind. The message in Vacca’s office was clear – “Sign the Bill!”