RWDSU Statement on Living Wage Vote/Campaign Finale

RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum made the following remarks today at a noon press conference at City Hall before the New York City Council’s afternoon vote on living wage legislation:

Good afternoon. I’m Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). I want to thank everyone for being here for this historic occasion, especially the members of the Living Wage NYC Coalition and the many elected officials who are with us today and helped get us to this point. We could not have done it without Speaker Quinn, Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and so many City Council members, especially Oliver Koppell, Annabel Palma, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Brad Lander, Jumaane Williams, and Tish James.

Over the past two years, thousands of New Yorkers have come together to support the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, living wage legislation that the City Council will pass this afternoon.

We built a citywide movement for living wage jobs, and this landmark legislation is the result of that movement.

Civil rights organizations, churches, LGBTQ groups, immigrant groups, labor unions, businesses and so many others all played important roles and share in this victory. What started as a campaign became a visible and vocal movement—a movement focused on putting a stop to a policy that has been hazardous to our economic health: city government enabling a select group of companies and developers to get richer from taxpayer subsidies, while allowing greater income inequality and poverty to take hold as a result. It’s no coincidence that a record number of New Yorkers applied for food stamps during the same mayoral administration that allowed the top 1 percent to hoard 44 percent of all income in the city. After billions spent on so-called job creation and economic development, New Yorkers are not better off: More poverty-wage jobs have been created at the bottom as profits swell at the top. A dark legacy if ever there was one.

It is economically and morally wrong to perpetuate this costly failure. We live in a city of many, not a plutocracy of few. The RWDSU, working with the Living Wage NYC campaign and the City Council, is proud to have championed legislation that will deliver real reform by investing taxpayer money more wisely in higher-wage jobs that lift us all up. Smart, democratic investment is the core of the Fair Wage for New Yorkers Act, it is the basis for a wage-led recovery for our economy and it rests on a principle of fairness that resonates across the political spectrum.

A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 74 % of New York City voters across parties support the living wage bill, with even 60% of Republicans saying it is government’s responsibility to ensure that workers earn a decent wage. So the legislation that has moved through the Council reflects the consensus of ideologically diverse New Yorkers—what this city values and believes in.

This is serious stuff: landmark living wage legislation that will raise wages for thousands of jobs in the coming years, because it will affect projects overseen by the largest urban economic development agency in the United States. Over time, as the living wage requirement is shown to be effective and beneficial in practice, it should bolster and strengthen other wage-focused campaigns. We need the vitality and strength of this living wage movement to live on and have a longer life, an afterlife far beyond today: we must channel the living wage movement into new and unprecedented efforts to reduce inequality and poverty, and to rebuild the city’s middle class after years of decline. We must fight those battles on all available fronts.

We must fight to ensure that all working people are treated with dignity, justice and respect.

Thank you.