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LOCAL News :: Labor & Class

RISC pressures city council to commit to Living Wage by Oct 1st

On Monday, June 5, at Ginter Park Presbyterian on Richmond’s north side, amid the booming church organs and the well-rehearsed choir, religious leaders, community organizers, and hundreds of social justice-minded members and supporters of the religious coalition Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Our Communities (RISC) put council-members under the spotlight on the issue of living wage.
“You can only answer yes or no? Rev. Horace Wade instructed each individual council member before grilling them on their commitment to achieving a living wage. In attendance were Ellen F. Robertson (6th District) William J. Pantele (2nd District) E. Martin "Marty" Jewell (5th District) Chris A. Hilbert (3rd District). Noticeably absent was Delores McQuinn (7th district), despite her acceptance of participation in the forum.

Though all 4 council-members committed to working with RISC on a living wage for contract employees and passing a policy by October 1st, the levels of enthusiasm varied greatly. Marty Jewell passionately and powerfully equated paying minimum wage (or anything below a living wage) to slave labor, while Ellen Robertson hesitated for a good 5 to 10 seconds before conceding that a living wage was in fact a good idea. In her end statements she challenged the 400 RISC members in the room to form a group to meet with city council to work on these issues. This was somewhat ironic, because the hundreds of people with critical eyes on her were part of a group formed to do exactly what she proposed. Pantele and Hilbert both “challenged? RISC to widen their struggle to include the surrounding counties. The crowd responded enthusiastically, but Rev. Wade assured the council-members that RISC was going to start with the City.

What can be seen as a victory is a commitment from these four council-members to pass an ordinance by October 1st to pay a living wage of $9.10/hr to contracted employees of the city. Currently the minimum wage in Richmond is the national rate of 5.15/hr. Three other local governments in VA have adopted living wage ordinances, including Alexandria, Charlottesville, and Arlington.

Vincent Johnson, a former day laborer, and current organizer with the Richmond Coalition for a Living Wage (RCLW), shared with the RISC audience his life experience of poverty and exploitation. He described the life of a temp worker in vivid details: getting to the day labor center at 4 am in order to get a job for the day, beginning at 6 am, bringing home about $130 a week, while the predatory labor contractors make over $200 a week off of the labor of each individual. He said that workers are unable to complain about unsafe or hazardous conditions for fear of having their name black listed at day labor centers across the city.

Other organizers from Richmond Coalition for a Living Wage were also in attendance to show their support for RISC’s new direction. Charlie Schmidt, from RCLW was very happy to have this new energy and charge in the living wage movement. He said that RISC came to them recently to express interest in involvement in the living wage movement. Michael De Beer, RISC’s paid organizer said that the decision to begin working on living wage issues came democratically from the 1,000 person base at various churches, mosques and synagogues around Richmond. Through assemblies and participatory voting procedures, the social issues of cycles of crime and living wages came to be the two top issues for RISC to take on.

To contact RISC write to
400 West 32nd St,
Richmond, VA 23225

Or call
(804) 497-4777

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