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Working Life
'Living wage' bill moves forward
(Published November 14, 2005)

By JOSLYN N. WILLIAMS

The Campaign for a Real Living Wage in D.C. scored a big victory last month when Mayor Anthony Williams announced he would propose a living wage of $11.25 per hour for all city employees, and for workers at companies that receive city contracts or economic assistance. This is a major increase over the mayor's original proposal of $10.50 (or $9.25, plus benefits). The mayor also will be amending his original proposal to make sure the wage is adjusted for inflation. However, supporters report there is still work to be done to protect the "first source" hiring provision in the bill and make sure as many workers as possible are covered by the legislation.

The contentious political battle over the D.C. living wage continued at city hall in early November, when dozens of living wage supporters who showed up in support of a strong city policy were kept waiting for nearly two hours, while D.C. City Council members huddled in a pre-meeting behind closed doors. Fed up with the wait, activists began chanting, "Who are we? Voters! What do we want? Our council!" When the council finally convened, several council members spoke out in support of strengthening the living wage proposal by raising the wage to $11.75 per hour and covering part-time and Medicaid workers. In the end, Councilman Vincent Orange's attempt to send forward a weak bill was denied, and council members Fenty, Mendelson and Graham announced that they would be working to move an improved bill out of committee over the next weeks.

‘LARGEST-EVER' MOBILIZATION FOR WORKERS' RIGHTS: The AFL-CIO and a broad-based coalition of unions and religious, student, community and civil rights groups are planning a national mobilization – "the biggest ever" – in support of workers' freedom to form unions and bargain collectively during the week leading up to Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day. On Dec. 8, a rally, march and reading of the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is scheduled; for full details, check out www.dclabor.org.

THE HIGH COST OF LOW PRICE: Ever wondered why Wal-Mart spends so much money trying to convince you it cares about your family, your community and even its own employees? What is it hiding? "WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price," a new film by veteran documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald, takes you behind the glitz and into the real lives of workers and their families, business owners and their communities, in an extraordinary journey that will challenge the way you think, feel and shop. The film premieres Nov. 13-19, with over 3,000 screenings in 19 countries and all 50 states already in the works for the largest grass-roots mobilization in movie history. Dozens of screenings are planned for the metro Washington area: go to http://www.dclabor.org for the full schedule.

REMEMBERING ROSA: "Well, in the first place I had been working all day on the job, not feeling too well after spending a hard day working. The job required I handle and work on clothing that white people would wear and that accidentally came into my mind. And this was what I wanted to know: when, how would we ever determine our rights as human beings?"—Rosa Parks, civil rights leader

A DREAM DEFERRED: On a personal note, it was a great honor to be named one of D.C. Vote's "Champions of Democracy" last month. I still vividly remember the day I recited the Pledge of Allegiance as a new U.S. citizen more than 40 years ago. But it's been four decades of a dream deferred for this proud D.C. resident who, along with my more than 600,000 fellow District residents, am still awaiting the chance to exercise my democratic rights as a U.S. citizen: the ability to vote for members of Congress. I still believe that before I depart for the pearly gates, I'll have a chance to vote for Eleanor Holmes Norton, who will not only have a vote in the House of Representatives, but will be speaker of that House. My fellow 2005 Champion of Democracy was D.C. Vote founder Joe Sternlieb, the current deputy director of the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District, who quite rightly terms the denial of voting rights for D.C. residents an "equal opportunity insult." At last month's D.C. Vote event, Sternlieb, noting democratic advances in Iraq and Afghanistan, asked: "Wouldn't it be ironic if the people of Havana get the vote before we do?" The well-attended event drew D.C. City Council members, including Chairman Linda Cropp, many local business and nonprofit leaders, and labor leaders from Teamsters Joint Council 55, the Washington Building and Construction Trades Council and others.

8253 – THE RIGHT NUMBER: The 2005 United Way, Combined Federal Campaign and DC ONE Fund campaigns are underway. Please support the Community Services Agency (Designation #8253), labor's own social service charitable organization, providing assistance to workers and union members and their families, as well as services to the area's local unions. Work site flyers are available online at http://www.dclabor.org.

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Williams is president of the Metro Washington Council, AFL-CIO. For the latest on the local labor movement, subscribe to the free UNION CITY e-zine at streetheat@dclabor.org.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator