Why I Keep Raising Hell

I applaud my Mayor Bill de Blasio's call on all of us to embrace the challenge of our day, reversing the growing tide of income inequality that threatens to put the American Dream beyond the reach of far too many people. When thousands of men and women work full time but need food stamps to put food on their tables, when they can't get health benefits, when they can't get paid sick days, then we must do whatever we can to stand up for them.

That's why I proudly stood with fellow elected officials in New York and hundreds of airport workers on Martin Luther King, Jr,. Day, demanding that they be paid a fair living wage with benefits for jobs that once provided them with a path to financial security. Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech was delivered at "The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom," a call to justice beyond the traditional civil rights movement's focus. It is an affront to his legacy that New York's airport workers are paid make less in real wages in 2014 than the Memphis sanitation workers he was championing when he was murdered in 1968.

In the past, these workers would have worked directly for the airlines or the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, earning decent compensation and benefits. Now they work for non-union private contractors who offer the lowest bids by (not even) paying minimum wage. The truth is that we are all subsidizing those employers with food stamps, rental vouchers and Medicaid for their workers.

It's morally wrong, and economically self-defeating, that so much wealth flows upwards towards the richest of Americans, while millions work full time but still can't provide for their families.

This has to change. I look forward to President Obama's State of the Union Speech next week as the president has placed the fight against income inequality at the center of his and our country's agenda. Those of us in the Congress must confront and overcome Republican intransigence to increasing the minimum wage, extending unemployment insurance and protecting food stamps.

I'm proud that my mayor has been in the forefront of this fight in New York, as he has committed to expanding pre-K and after school programs, as well as workers' rights to paid sick leave that not only protects them but those they work with and for.

I too am committed to fighting to reclaim an America where working men and women have a reasonable expectation they can support their families and plan for the future. If it means getting arrested in an act of civil disobedience -- as I and so many of my fellow elected officials in New York did -- then we bear that arrest as a badge of honor.