Social justice group calls for higher wages – LA Weekly – 5-12-14

By Sam Tabachnik
Louisiana Weekly – Contributing Writer

13702006645_405c163133_zArmed with signs, t-shirts and rallying cries, peaceful protestors descended on City Hall last Thursday to march in solidarity for International Workers’ Day, calling for full and fair employment and an end to deportations.

The protest—organized by the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ)—combined the plight of New Orleans workers, from local construction workers fighting for livable wages and safe working conditions to illegal immigrants threatened with deportation.

The group came together on May 1 to hand-deliver letters to Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Advisor to Mayor for Economic Development Aimee Quirk requesting meetings to discuss an economic development plan for the city that builds “thriving communities,” reduces violence and murder, and creates “equitable opportunities” for local workers in New Orleans.

According to one of the coalition’s organizers, Alfred Marshall, New Orleans has a “plantation economy”—one that creates jobs, but only for a select portion of the population.

“We came together today out of solidarity,” Marshall said, “to let those at the top know that people are being oppressed, no matter what color you are. Right now, people are being stereotyped, picked out based on their color.”

After several speeches outside City Hall, the throng of around 75 marched calmly to the Mayor’s office on the second floor of the building, where they delivered the letter to Mayor Landrieu’s director of strategic partnerships, Brooke Smith. Lead organizer of the NOWCRJ and the Congress of Day Laborers, Jacinta Gonzalez, explained the letter to Ms. Smith, who listened patiently as Gonzalez translated remarks from several workers.

Many of the marchers carried signs and donned matching t-shirts or hats. One sign read, “We are human!” while another preached, “Full and fair employment!”

While President Obama has stated his desire for an increase in the federal minimum wage, these modest increases would still be woefully inadequate, Gonzalez said.

“The issue is that $10.10 is still not a livable wage,” Gonzalez said. “What we really want is to create a path for people to have careers, to be able to climb the career ladder.”

LaTanja Silvester, political director for the Service Employees International Unions (SEIU) Local 21-LA, said that bumping the minimum wage is a step “on the right track” but added that there needs to be “further discussion around what is the actual living wage for an individual living in New Orleans.”

One of the policies at the heart of the May Day march was the Criminal Alien Removal Initiative (CARI) which, according to the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, involves “indiscriminate” community raids at apartment complexes, grocery stores, parks and other places based “purely on racial profiling.”

“We don’t even have the peace or tranquility to go to the park or pick our children up from school,” said one the marchers, Maria Sabilloi, through an interpreter. “It’s not fair that now they’re separating our families when there are many children that are citizens.”

These protests are part of an ongoing national discussion over comprehensive immigration reform, something President Obama has pushed for and the Senate has voted on, only to reach a halt in the House of Representatives.

According to Wendy Feliz, director of communications at the American Immigration Council, a Washington D.C.-based immigration policy center, a growing number of counties and states have begun enacting policies that allow local law enforcement to ignore federal immigration detainer laws.

“You see a lot of local law enforcement saying, ‘This is dumb; we don’t want to lock up people for stupid reasons and hold them indefinitely until the federal government shows up to pick them up,” Feliz said. “Law enforcement just doesn’t want to do it anymore. They just want to use their time and resources to go after the bad guys, not a guy who was simply fishing without a license.”

There are also economic reasons for keeping these immigrants in the communities, Feliz said. Most of them pay income taxes, and the ones that do not are still paying gasoline taxes, consumer taxes and contributing to the local economy.

“States are getting hip to the notion that these people are workers,” Feliz said. “Local governments are now starting to look for ways to integrate these people rather than drive them out.”

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