More than 500 laborers and labor organizers [including Make the Road New York] marched through Manhattan in support of low-wage workers on Tuesday afternoon.
Locked-out Con Edison workers joined taxi drivers, airport workers, day care providers, janitors and retail employees in the 20-block walk from Herald Square to Union Square as part of the National Action Day for workers’ rights and fair wages.
The event marked the first time workers from different organizing campaigns in the city came together as one voice in support of fair wages, dignity and respect, advocating for those who are denied overtime pay, have no health benefits and often work in dangerous conditions.
Labor unions involved in the demonstration included the SEIU 32BJ, the Retail Wholesale and Department Workers Union, and the Communications Workers of America.
The event followed the release of a report from labor advocacy group United NY that revealed the purchasing power of New York’s $7.25 minimum wage is 26 percent lower than it was in 1970 and that four in 10 New York City laborers are low-wage workers based on the federal definition.
Protestors in the march held signs castigating various corporations with slogans, such as “Outback Is Wack” and “America Loses on Dunkin.” And during the march, mini demonstrations were held in front of so-called bad employers, among them Chipotle, JCPenney, Burlington Coat Factory and Dunkin’ Donuts.
“We need to make sure we raise the minimum wage in New York state and do it as fast as we can,” said New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. A friend translated the words into Spanish for Benigno Trujillo [member of Make the Road New York], who nodded vigorously. Trujillo makes less than $300 a week cleaning restaurants from 2 p.m. to 4 a.m.
“It is important for me to come out today. The cost of life is just too high,” Trujillo told Current.com through a translator as he unwrapped a prepacked apple and opened a bag of Fritos he had brought along for his dinner.
Luis Molina described the wages he makes as a full-time taxi driver in New York City as “miserable.” He makes less than $13,000 a year, but claims that the welfare office has told him he makes too much money to qualify for support.
“I have no food in my fridge. My fridge is empty,” Molina told Current.com. Until last year Molina was homeless and living in a Salvation Army shelter. He recently moved into a small apartment in Brooklyn.
“But I am still a month behind on my rent. I can’t make ends meet. I penny-pinch. I quarter-pinch. I literally save quarters.”
Airport workers like Prince Jackson made up a large contingent of the demonstrators. Jackson works in security at John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens. He makes $8 an hour manning an exit door. His take-home pay comes to about $1,000 a month.
“I’m a worker,” Jackson said. “Half of the money I make goes to my rent. Then I have my cell phone bill, my laundry bill and after my expenses I have no money left. I can’t say enough how much I really, really, really want the minimum wage to increase.”
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