Activists Rally For Higher Minimum Wage — Wednesday, October 3, 2012

By Jeannie O'Sullivan
Staff writer

BURLINGTON TOWNSHIP — Misty drizzle didn't dampen the passion of a dozen activists who rallied in the name of fair wages near the grounds of one of the county's biggest employers.

Chanting "Raise the wage!" and waving signs, members of several organizations gathered in a parking lot next to the Burlington Coat Factory's headquarters on Route 130 on Tuesday to demand passage of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012. The bill would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.80.

Minimum wage has been stagnant since the late 1960s, according to Ann Vardeman, a rally organizer for Newark-based New Jersey Citizen Action.

"If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation, the current minimum wage would be $10.40, not $7.25. A (minimum wage) worker who works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year without taking any time off makes $15,080, and that's just not enough to survive on," Vardeman said.

The activists said they made Burlington Coat Factory an example because the retailer has many employees who work for "insufficient wages."

Attempts to reach company officials Tuesday were not successful.

Burlington Coat Factory employs 28,729 workers, including part-time and seasonal help, according to an annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in April.

The retailer is owned by Bain Capital, the private equity firm co-founded by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has been criticized for seeming disconnected from the middle class.

Wealth distribution was the topic of a speech by Lizette Delgado-Polanco, executive director of Service Employees International Union's New Jersey State Council in Newark. She argued that raising minimum wage needn't be a controversial issue and would help create, not kill, jobs.

"That is why we reject the trickle-down economics, which benefits the chosen few, and call for rise-up economics that puts the 99 percent first," said Delgado-Polanco.

The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012 was introduced in July by legislators in the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee and the House of Representatives' Workforce Committee. The activists say they plan to urge Congressman Jon Runyan, R-3rd of Mount Laurel, to sponsor the bill.

Other organizations represented at the rally were Grassroots4Change, NAACP and N.J. Time to Care Coalition. The event also drew a Willingboro resident well acquainted with the struggle to make a living.

Veda Cappard, 66, says she's been underpaid for the majority of her career, which ironically included a job as an employability instructor at Goodwill.

The mother of seven grown children has been unemployed since September 2011, when she was let go from a Walmart position that paid less than $10 an hour.

Holding a sign that said "Burlington Coat Factory Can Do Better," Cappard's energy belied her bleak outlook.

"When you're over 65 and you're looking for a job, employment doesn't come easily. It doesn't matter how intelligent you are," she said.

Top Top | NJCA Homepage | NJCA in the News