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Archdiocese to Speak Out at Rally Urging City Council to Pass Bill on Wages
New York Times
Kirk Semple

November 20, 2011
View the Original Article

Supporters of a bill that would raise wages at city-subsidized projects are celebrating the introduction of a formidable voice to the debate: the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities, is scheduled to speak at a rally on Monday organized by a coalition of religious, labor and community leaders to urge the passage of the bill, originally introduced last year by two City Council members from the Bronx.

The archdiocese has been hesitant to weigh in on legislative matters, and, indeed, Monsignor Sullivan was quick to clarify in an interview Sunday that the archdiocese had not taken “a specific position” on the bill, saying it generally did not take a position on any piece of legislation.

But he added that the rally on Monday, at Riverside Church, would provide an appropriate setting for the archdiocese to address economic hardship and unemployment, matters of utmost concern to the church.

He said he planned to read a statement from Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, who, Monsignor Sullivan said, will also address these subjects on Tuesday during a Thanksgiving-related event at a Catholic Charities community center in Harlem.

“We’re going to speak about how this economic crisis continues to hurt everybody in society, particularly the poor,” the monsignor said. “We need to make sure there are decent jobs with decent wages.”

The Council plans to hold a hearing on the bill, called the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, on Tuesday. The revised version of the bill would mandate a wage of $10 per hour with benefits, or $11.50 without benefits, for employees of projects that receive at least $1 million in subsidies. Small businesses with $5 million or less in annual revenue, and all manufacturing companies, would be exempt.

The majority of council members have endorsed the bill, which has gathered support among labor leaders and unions, nonprofit groups and clergy members. But it faces fierce opposition, from business leaders, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and others, who contend that it could harm employment and businesses in the city. Mr. Bloomberg has threatened to veto the bill.

Christine C. Quinn, the Council speaker, could also scuttle the bill by not bringing it up for a vote. She has not publicly declared whether she will support it.

Monsignor Sullivan’s appearance at the rally Monday, the bill’s advocates said, will provide a major lift to their campaign.

“The Catholic Church’s presence at the rally in support of living wages adds great moral and political strength to the movement,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which has led the coalition lobbying for the bill.

A spokesman for the union, Dan Morris, said Monsignor Sullivan’s appearance would be “the culmination of a year of intense faith-based coalition building.”

The rally, Living Wage: Many Voices, One Goal, will also include statements by other religious leaders, as well as labor and civil rights activists.

The archdiocese’s participation is part of a recent push by Archbishop Dolan to focus more attention in the church on the problems of economic hardship and the importance of living wages.

On Sept. 15, in a letter to all bishops in the United States, he urged members of the Catholic clergy to speak out on the problems of poverty and unemployment.

“The best way out of poverty is to work at a living wage,” wrote the archbishop, who is also president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “The common good will not advance, economic security will not be achieved, and individual initiative will be weakened when so many live without the dignity of work and bear the crushing burden of poverty.”