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New report helps low-wage workers

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 4/4/2013, 5:23 p.m.

UnitedNY and the Center for Popular Democracy recently released a report detailing ways to help low-wage earners in the five boroughs of New York.

Workers, community groups, mayoral candidates, elected officials and policy experts gathered for a half-day symposium and presented a report at a news conference about worker-led organizing drives in New York City.

In the report, titled "Workers Rising: Organizing Service Jobs for Shared Prosperity in New York City," it's shown that wages in the city have remained stagnant over the past 40 years, even though the wealth of the economic one percent has increased, while the city's unemployment rate increased from 5.3 percent in 2007 to 9.7 percent in 2012. According to the study, some of the policy reforms that could improve conditions for low-wage earners include raising standards, regulating high-violation industries that are shown to have rampant labor abuse, urging the state to allow New York City to set a minimum wage higher than the rest of the state, due to the higher cost of living in the five boroughs, and establishing a Mayor's Office of Labor Standards to enforce labor laws.

"The goal of the symposium was to create a forum where workers could outline the day-to-day issues they face trying to support families and make ends meet here in New York," said Camille Rivera, executive director of UnitedNY. "It was also important that the people who will have the responsibility to enforce initiatives to help these workers were on hand to understand the urgency of improving conditions for these low-wage workers. New York is such a diverse city, and there must be room for people from all walks of life and economic backgrounds to work, live and thrive."

The symposium began with a conversation with worker -leaders from various industries--including car washes, airports, fast-food restaurants and retail stores--discussing their low wages, poor working conditions and campaigns for changes on the job. Labor organizations 32BJ and RWDSU were also represented and showed their support for ensuring that workers receive the wages, benefits and respect they deserve.

"We've been fighting for two years now to improve work conditions at JFK Airport. But the fight goes beyond us security officers at airports," said Prince Jackson, an Air Serv Corp. security guard, who works at Kennedy Airport. "The fight extends beyond low-wage workers like baggage handlers and sky caps to include fast-food, car wash, grocery store workers and low-wage workers all over the city. If today's symposium shows anything, it's that workers must be paid decently for the hard work we do, and we are going to keep fighting until we get what we deserve."

The symposium also included workshops on topics like improving life for low-wage immigrants workers, the role clergy and community can play in workers' rights and adding low-wageworker issues as a legislative talking point in the immediate future.

"The Great Recession may have ended by conventional standards, but for millions of low-wage, underemployed and unemployed New Yorkers, the struggle seems never-ending," said William C. Thompson, former New York City comptroller and current candidate mayoral. "The situation is particularly disturbing in minority communities. As a city, we must protect low-wage workers, including supporting efforts to raise the minimum wage and cracking down on those who exploit workers," Another union leader agreed.

"Growing numbers of New Yorkers are relying on low-wage jobs to survive, while far too many low-wage workers in this city do not earn enough to afford basic expenses," said Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum. "To truly lift people out of poverty, we need real policy change and we need strong unions."