March 21, 2013
Brooklyn fast food workers putting in long hours for very little pay got a spiritual boost from the Flatbush Reformed Church on Tuesday as a once-hopeful deal in Albany to raise the minimum wage to $9, now appears to be deteriorating rapidly. (Read More/Watch Video)
Many cheering President Barack Obama’s February call for a significant increase in the minimum wage, and the subsequent action that took place in the New York Stage Legislature, are now discovering that the modest hike proposed in the Empire State would not reach $9 an hour until 2016, and would also not be tied to inflation as many had advocated.
"There is a majority of [New York State] senators eager and waiting to vote for $9 an hour, with indexing, and yet the three Democrat leaders in the back room keep giving away more worker wages and tax dollars to appease the minority Senate Republicans,” said Mark Dunlea, executive director of the Hunger Action Network of NYS. “This isn't how democracy is supposed to work."
Workers in the five boroughs are betting that an alliance with an eager and energized faith-based community motivated by social and economic justice, will help turn the tide.
“It’s quite clear in our holy book that we are to stand up for justice regardless of the consequences,” Imam Yusuf Ramadan said. “We know that is not an easy thing to do. There are all kinds of threats made against you – sometimes physical, sometimes economic. You take a chance on losing your job or losing the little bit of position that you do have.”
Kelwyn Diaz, a fast food worker at a Burger King in Bay Ridge, said that he and his co-workers work hard, in often dangerous conditions in an effort to support themselves and their families, but still can’t make enough to survive.
“At first, I was skeptical about this whole effort,” Diaz said. “But then I started coming to these meetings. When you’re alone, yes, you’re afraid. But when you have people behind you, you’re not afraid. You know that there is someone you can rely on. So, we need all your help to spread the world, to tell everyone that this injustice cannot be allowed to keep going on. We need to change.”
Reverend Cheri Kroon, associate minister of the Flatbush Reformed Church, said that the “turning point” for her came after last year’s one-day walkout by fast food workers when she realized that some low-paid employees couldn’t even count on their pay checks clearing.
“Their pay checks were bouncing,” Reverend Kroon said. “This was unbelievable to me.”
The National Employment Law Project recently found that despite continuing post-recession lethargy, more than 75 percent of the nation’s largest low-wage employers have been raking in bundles of cash over the last three years.
Ethical Culture Leader Dr. Ann Klaeysen lamented that today’s generation of workers actually has it much worse than then their forbearers.
“When you have to make a decision about whether you’re able to take a subway or bus to get to work…and how to keep a roof over your head and food on the table – and also be able to be there for your children to help them with their homework at night – that’s far more than my parents ever had to put up with,” Dr. Klaeysen said. “And to think that we’re doing this in the 21st century is an outrage.”
The minimum wage measure now being retooled in the State Senate differs significantly from one already passed in the Assembly, and would reportedly result in millions of low-income workers earning several billion dollars less than they otherwise would have.
“Though emotions and feelings in Albany are mixed about enacting a sustainable minimum wage for all low-wage earners, we as clergy are very much behind workers and their needs,” Bronx Imam Abdul-Karim Rahim said. “The workers who are seeking better wages are our neighbors, and our parishioners, and it is up to us to support them in their fight for justice. This battle is very much about empowering our communities and the families who live there, and we are committed to standing up alongside them as they fight to get what they deserve.”