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Living Wage Supporters Rally; City Council Hearing Today
Norwood News

November 22, 2011
View the Original Article

Backers of a controversial living wage bill that’s scheduled for a debate in the City Council this afternoon held a spirited rally last night at Harlem’s Riverside Church, where elected officials, union workers and leaders from faith institutions across the city demanded action on the legislation, which has been lingering in the Council for over a year.

Supporters of the bill–which would require development projects that receive substantial taxpayer-funded subsidies to pay workers $10 an hour with benefits, or $11.50 without–packed the pews of the enormous church, the rally lasting over two hours. Speakers likened the living wage campaign to other movements raging across the country and elsewhere, reiterating a sentiment of disillusionment with those in charge and frustration over the widening wealth gap.

“This struggle is part of a worldwide struggle, from Egypt to Tunisia, from Wisconsin to Occupy Wall Street–the struggle for economic justice,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

A slew of Bronx elected officials and faith leaders attended the event and were among the first speakers to head off the rally. The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act was sponsored by two Bronx City Council members, and its introduction is rooted in a political battle over wages at the Kingsbridge Armory two years ago, which several alluded to last night.

“We rescued our community from what would have become a poverty wage center,” said Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, who heads the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance and led the fight to kill a mall project there–a project pushed by Mayor Bloomberg–because the developer, Related Companies, refused to agree to a living wage mandate in exchange for the taxpayer subsidies it was set to receive.

“Let’s be very clear: it was Bloomberg who killed those jobs,” Pilgrim-Hunter said. “We’re facing off with Bloomberg again, but this time we have a citywide coalition.”

Today’s City Council hearing will focus on changes made to the legislation recently by its sponsors, who essentially watered down the proposal after opponents–the city’s business community and Mayor Bloomberg, for starters–claimed mandated wages would stifle development and kills jobs.

The future of the bill is in the hands of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who can kill it by refusing to bring it up for a vote on the council floor. She’s yet to take a stance on the issue.

We’ll be covering today’s hearing, which starts at 1 p.m., and will be tweeting updates from our twitter account @NorwoodNews, so stay tuned!