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Workers Mean Business

The loudest voice at the event, organizers say, will likely belong to the Richmond Coalition for a Living Wage.

The coalition plans to demonstrate support for the estimated 500 people employed by vendors for city contract work who earn less than a "living wage" — which in Richmond, according to the coalition, is $8.70 per hour plus health benefits (or $10.40 without). Currently, some employees of the city, in such positions as janitors, street cleaners, Coliseum event staff and construction workers, make $5.15 per hour, the minimum wage, says Mary Lou DeCossaux, spokeswoman for the coalition. At that rate, she says, a single worker would have to work 78 hours per week, every week of the year to afford an efficiency apartment.

The city already has agreed to pay full-time workers at least $8.50 hourly, but those employed by vendors who have contracts with the city "are not earning enough to live in the city they're working in," DeCossaux says. The coalition, supported by nearly 30 local organizations, says Richmond should follow the lead of 84 other cities nationwide by extending the living-wage policy.

Michele Quander-Collins, spokeswoman for City Manager Calvin Jamison, says the city is working closely with the coalition to examine the financial impact of such a policy on both the city and the vendors. But the policy "will ultimately be decided by City Council," she says.

With elections drawing near, City Council candidates will have to make clear their position on the wage issue, DeCossaux says. At the end of June, the coalition sent surveys to council candidates requesting a formal statement of their stance. The results will be released in September.

On Sunday, Sept. 1, the coalition plans to rally at least 100 citizens, workers and their families at the Coliseum for a free lunch provided by the group Food Not Bombs. Then, at 2 p.m., they'll join an expected 700 people marching along Leigh Street, from Fourth Street to the Virginia Union University campus. Church groups, school bands and about 45 different organizations, including local unions, are participating.

— Melissa Scott Sinclair

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