December 5, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The outrageously low wages that the fast food industry and major airlines continue to pass off as legitimate salaries are not only keeping scores of hard working men and women in poverty – they’re also doing an extraordinarily fine job derailing lives and destroying whole families.
As a new grandfather, Michael Carey, 48, should be a blissfully, happy man. Instead the JFK security officer finds himself living and commuting in from New Jersey every day after separating from his wife six months ago, and moving out of their Brooklyn home. He blames the sad breakup on his low-wage, dead-end airport job.
“It caused me and my wife to split up,” Carey told LaborPress this week. “I love my job, but it’s the financial aspect that is a problem.”
Carey joined hundreds of other low-wage workers and supporters at a rally held outside City Hall on Thursday morning aimed at convincing the powers-that-be that it’s high time to raise the minimum wage.
Wilton Major is a 43-year-old man who’s grateful to have a place to live with his sister in Canarsie. He’s worked for Kentucky Fried Chicken for almost 20 years, but still earns less than $9 an hour.
“It’s very hard,” Major said. “The years go by. And if I didn’t have a good family helping me…”
Like Major, Angel Oswayne, 34, has also spent some of the best years of his life helping to successfully supervise a lucrative fast food joint in Brooklyn, but still only earns less than $9 an hour. Oswayne has three children, and takes home a little more than $200 a week from KFC.
“They’re robbing people,” Oswayne said. “It’s not right. What they’re doing is wrong.”
This week’s minimum wage rally was replete with lots of whistling, chanting and its own marching band. All of that, however, was put on hold for a four minute and 30 second uninterrupted moment of silence in memory of the length of time Michael Brown lay lifeless on the ground after Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer Darren Wilson shot him to death last August.
The incident, along with a Grand Jury’s decision not to indict NYPD cops involved in the choking death of Eric Garner on Staten Island in July, cast a somber pall over the minimum wage rally, as many connected the need to reform the criminal justice system to the plight of low-wage workers everywhere.
“People have been at their breaking point for a very long time,” Carey said.
Despite the frustration, the fight to raise the minimum wage in New York remains an uphill battle, largely because the city’s ability to act is contingent upon legislators in Albany.
“I wish we were at a tipping point,” said Shirley Aldebo, vice-president, 32BJ SEIU. “I think there is more attention being paid to the issue of income inequality than ever before. I see changes coming. The fight is going to be Upstate.”
At the same time, Aldebo stressed the continued importance of rallies like the one held outside City Hall this week.
“It keeps the pressure on, and keeps calling attention to the issue,” Aldebo said. “If we quietly go away and wait, nothing will happen.”