Workers march in Jamaica for living wages

Protesters rally near Jamaica Center before marching to the John F. Kennedy International Airport AirTrain terminal, where they called on big businesses to pay their workers a living wage. Photo by Rich Bockmann
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Protesters marched in Jamaica last week to bring attention to a new report highlighting the plight of low-wage workers in the city and one that named a few Queens businesses as some of the biggest offenders.

The report, released by the pro-labor groups UnitedNY and the Alliance for a Greater New York, detailed how some of the jobs projected to experience substantial growth in the coming years — food service workers, cashiers, home health aides and retail salespeople — pay below the living wage, defined by the groups as $11.50 an hour, or $23,000 a year.

Drawing the ire of living-wage advocates were the owner of a citywide car wash chain with an outlet in Jamaica and the head of a company that provides cleaners and security personnel at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

New York Communities for Change, a social and economic justice group, organized the rally last Thursday, which started on the corner of Jamaica Avenue and Parsons Boulevard.

Rabbi Michael Feinberg, of the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, said he got involved because the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour had not kept pace with inflation, meaning workers could not support themselves or their communities.

“You can work full time at minimum wage and still be below the federal poverty line. That makes no sense morally,” he said. “If they can’t sustain themselves, then their communities can’t survive.”

Jennifer Maurici passed by the group of about two dozen protesters on her way to Queens Family Court, where she works as a social worker. She said she was not sure if raising the minimum wage would be detrimental to small business owners.

“Who’s paying the minimum wage? Is it the movie theaters and fast food restaurants? I imagine a lot of the money goes up to the top,” she said. “It’s a complex issue.”

After gathering near Jamaica Center, the protesters marched down Jamaica Avenue, drawing honks of support from a few Verizon trucks passing by. As it approached the JFK AirTrain terminal on Sutphin Boulevard, the crowd chanted, “Hey, hey JFK! Give your workers better pay!”

Brooklyn resident Samuel McCalm said he works as a baggage handler for a contractor at JFK for $8 an hour. He said he struggled to support his family of three on his income.

“We want better wages that can support ourselves, our families and our community,” he said.

The report concluded by recommending raising the state’s minimum wage, requiring employers who accept taxpayer subsidies to pay a living wage and making it easier for workers to gain collective bargaining rights.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 6:25 pm, July 26, 2012
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