Minimum wage workers rally for better conditions

THE COURIER/Photos by Terence M. Cullen

Samul McCalman said he only gets a four or five minute break during his shift that normally runs from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Although he and his wife work full-time, the Guyana native ­­— who has only lived in the U.S. for about 20 months — said it’s still hard to make ends meet.

McCalman was one of several people taking part in the march on Thursday, July 20, to raise awareness for the many in the area working for as little as $7.25 per hour, or less. The march, which ran down Jamaica Avenue starting at Parsons Boulevard, ended at the Jamaica LIRR station, where the AirTrain makes berth.

Rallying at the AirTrain site was to show solidarity for airport workers who are underpaid by companies who are contracted with JFK and LaGuardia, organizers said.

“The reason we are here is because of the disparity and inequality there is for low-wage workers,” said Maria Maisonet, who marshalled the group to the station. “You deserve to be able to eat, you deserve to be able to pay your rent.”

On their way, the 20 people chanted demands for higher wages and better living conditions. “Community need over corporate greed,” and “Hey, hey, JFK/give your workers better pay,” could be heard down the avenue on the overcast afternoon.

This rally was part of a lead up to a larger one for better wages that took place on Tuesday, July 24, according to Olivia Leirer, a spokesperson for New York Workers Rising. It was also in response to a recently released report by the advocacy group that highlights how hard it is for minimum wage workers to live in the city.

Jamaica was chosen to be the rally site because of what Leirer said was a failure to bring jobs with adequate pay to the area.

“It’s kind of a broken promise to bring better jobs to the community,” she said, referring to the AirTrain and most airport related jobs, which are mainly through contractors. “Most of the jobs that were brought to the community are minimum wage jobs.”

Despite most passers-by keeping their heads down and getting on with their afternoon commute, the march did seem to reach some.

During chants of “affordable wages, not poverty wages” one man walking past muttered to himself, “that’s right.”

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