May 8, 2014
By Stephanie West
New York, NY – Over 1,000 low-wage workers from around the city joined hands Wednesday evening May 7th with interfaith clergy members and labor officials for a “Faith and Justice” walk to Harlem’s Riverside Church. The message from those that participated 'let cities around the state set their own minimum wages.' In recent months, faith leaders have provided critical support for fast food, car wash and airport workers, and helped lead the successful fight for paid sick leave.
“Throughout history, clergy of all faiths and denominations have been deeply involved in the fight for civil rights and for fair treatment for all people, and this is another front in that battle,” said the Rev. James A. Forbes Jr., Senior Minister Emeritus of The Riverside Church. “New York ranks No. 1 in income inequality in the U.S. No one who works 40 hours a week at minimum wage can afford basic living costs,” he added. “In a speech to striking sanitation workers in Memphis before he was assassinated in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘…it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis … getting part-time income.’ It was criminal then and it is still criminal today!”
Faith and community leaders as well as union officials joined the sign-carrying workers for a three-block “Faith and Justice Walk” from the northwest end of Sakura Park at 123d St. to the front of the historic Riverside Church, on Riverside Drive and 120th St.
Following the march, workers filed into the mammoth church for a two-hour service featuring prayer, music, testimonials from workers and calls from priests, ministers, rabbis and imams for passage of legislation that would let cities and counties around the state set their own local minimum wage and for a higher federal minimum wage.
“It’s very important to me and my fellow ‘carwasheros’ that we raise the minimum wage in New York City,”said Ernesto Salazaar, 39, who works at Webster Car Wash in The Bronx.
New York has the worst income inequality in the nation, largely because the state’s $8 minimum wage is too low. Pending legislation in Albany would let cities and counties across New York supplement the state minimum wage by raising their local minimum wage. Recent polls show 73% of New Yorkers support the measure.
“Raising wages for working people in New York City is an economic and moral issue,” said Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “As a just society, we cannot continue to allow New York City's workers to be undervalued, while the wealthiest in society continue to get rich on the backs of everyday working men and women. Today and every day, we must stand up for the rights of the workers whose dedication, skill, and professionalism keep our city going.”