Manhattan Times: Open letter to workers

By Melissa Mark-Viverito

The strength of our city rests on the shoulders of our workers.

You are our economic backbone— the engine that keeps our communities vibrant and families strong. It has long been clear to me that all workers have the right to a just salary and sustainable employment, and that we need to fight to make that happen, especially for vulnerable immigrants workers.

I joined the struggle for workers’ rights soon after graduating college as a strategic organizer for SEIU Local 1199. The experience of being on the ground with community members and learning from them shaped my approach to the responsibilities as an elected official, first as a member and then as Speaker of the City Council.

Under my leadership, in 2016, I secured a $500,000 investment in day-laborer centers, which made it possible for vulnerable immigrants to leave the street corners and come indoors to a safe environment, and to seek work with access to oversight on the terms of their employment. To improve the lot of the city’s fast food and retail workers, in 2017 under my leadership, the Council passed a package of five bills that made significant changes to the fast food and retail industries to end unpredictable work schedules that wreaked economic havoc for the employees and their families. We passed legislation to regulate labor practices for car washers who were exposed to wage theft and other abuses.

Recognizing the challenges thousands of paid care workers face in New York City every day, in 2017 under my leadership, the Council also established the Paid Care Division within the Office of Labor Policy and Standards, an important step forward in the fight for fair labor conditions to ensure that these workers are paid just wages and protected from exploitative working conditions. The rapid increase of construction throughout the city made addressing the issue of unsafe construction sites urgent— and under my leadership, the Council responded passing legislation that requires training to prevent injuries or accidents, monitoring of construction sites by the Department of Buildings, licensing rating to operate particularly large cranes, and increased penalties for those who continue to disregard site safety requirements.

These are all steps in the right direction, but much remains to be done. With over half a million female heads of household in New York City, the 18% pay gap between men and women needs to be eliminated. Oversight to ensure city agencies are delivering on services to support workers must continue.

As your Public Advocate, I am committed to using the bully pulpit to bring attention to these and many other issues, listen to you on how best to serve you, and work to get the job done. I will work for you.