January 16, 2012
I am Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU, UFCW). I want to thank Speaker Quinn for bringing us together today for this important announcement. She has shown tremendous leadership and courage, and I am deeply grateful to her and her staff for everything they have done to get us to this point. And we would not be here without the leadership and vision of Borough President Ruben Diaz and council members Annabel Palma and Oliver Koppell. The RWDSU and all of our partners have been proud to be part of a diverse coalition fighting for living wages. And today I am so very proud to say that we have taken an important step in that fight. Together with the faith community, unions, immigrants’ rights organizations, LGBTQ groups, women’s groups, anti-hunger groups, civil rights leaders, and many others we built a strong movement for economic justice – a movement that today can celebrate a real victory for working people in this city.
Our campaign was called Living Wage NYC for a reason, and we have achieved a key goal: a new policy framework that says all workers on subsidized development projects, including retail employees, should be paid a living wage. A living wage requirement will extend to all direct recipients of subsidies for the first time in New York City. This is a groundbreaking requirement that covers the largest economic development program in the country. And we’re going even further: the city will establish a new pilot program fund to incentivize the creation of more living wage retail jobs on city development projects. We will show once and for all what we have believed for a long time – that this is smart policy that can work. All in all, this is an unparalleled effort to raise standards for job creation, and we should all be proud of that. We know that there is much left to do to address income inequality, job creation and job quality in this city. But we have raised the bar on what government can do and we will continue to work with all our allies to address the very real concerns of working people and the unemployed. There is no question that the living wage movement has changed the conversation about job creation in this city.
We have highlighted the importance of a higher-wage economy that will reduce inequality and rebuild the middle class. But the sad reality is that we have gained such visibility and momentum because so many people simply aren’t earning enough to support themselves and their families. We today stand with Speaker Quinn and say New York City is ready to do something about it. We should all understand that this new policy framework we are announcing today goes further than what any city in the country has done. And I know it’s something we will build upon in the future. And rest assured that this victory here in New York City will have national implications for other cities and for the progressive movement and labor movement in this country. And I can’t help but noting how fitting that we are here on the Friday before Martin Luther King Day. Dr. King died in Memphis while he was fighting for living wage jobs. The core issue affecting many workers today is the issue that animated King in his final hours: economic security is a crucial component of a truly just society. Today all of us are honoring his moral legacy through this landmark living wage effort. The dream is alive and we will continue our struggle to reach the mountaintop.