“Local activists fast for a living wage” from Ithaca Journal

By Topher Sanders

Ithaca Journal Staff

Certified living wage employers in Tompkins County were honored Monday for paying their employees considerably more than minimum wage. The event also kicked off a 40-hour fast that participants hope will compel more companies to pay living wages.

living wage employer in Tompkins County pays their employees a minimum of $19,100 a year, according to a 2005 analysis by Alternative Federal Credit Union.

Tompkins County Workers’ Center has certified 37 businesses in the county to be living wage employers.

Members of the Religious Task Force for a Living Wage, Tompkins County Workers’ Center, Catholic Charities and the CRESP Center for Transformative Action gathered at First Baptist Church to toast living wage employers.

“We wanted to recognize and affirm the living wage employers in the county because they’re going beyond what they are mandated to do in terms of just paying a minimum wage,” said Edie Reagan, coordinator of Justice and Peace and Catholic Charities. “They have the social and moral vision to do the right thing.”

There are benefits to employers who pay living wages, Reagan said. Workers earning living wagers are more focused, more productive, less likely to leave their job and more loyal, she said. Business that offer living wages also spend less money on training new employees.

Monday’s celebration included music and poetry and brought out some of the county’s political leaders.

“Everybody that works hard and has a family has the right to have a good shelter over their heads, food to feed their children, transportation to their jobs and also to relax after a hard days work,” said Nathan Shinagawa, D-City of Ithaca. “And the only way a person can do that is to have a livable wage.”

Employees of certified businesses were also at the celebration.

“No one needs to struggle and the way things keep rising you have to have enough money to pay for these things,” said Carolyn Brown, an employee of the Tompkins County Public Library, a living wage employer.

Religious Task Force for a Living Wage is part of the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition, and its members are participating in the 12th Annual 40-hour Fast, which aims to bring attention to the issue of a living wage in New York state.

“We’re still hungering for more justice for people here in our own community who are not yet making a living wage,” Reagan, who is participating in the fast, said. She hopes living wage employers become contagious in the county.

“Hopefully it can ripple out and have an effect on other businesses that will see that these employers can do this and still achieve their bottom line economically,” she said.


Originally published March 6, 2007