This August, the Amalgamated Bank, the nation’s largest union-owned bank, introduced a new policy: to pay all its employees a minimum of $15 an hour. And, being a bank for “progressive people, organizations, businesses and labor,” it naturally wanted to tell the world about what it had done.
But when it launched ads on New York subway cars recently, it ran into a buffer: the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s new ban on “political advertising.” Now, the MTA is forcing Amalgamated to take down its messages, even though paying people decently arguably isn’t “political,” or at least it shouldn’t be. The ads simply read: “Raising the minimum wage lifts up all New Yorkers. Join the bank that fights for working families.”
The MTA launched its ban in April after becoming embroiled in a controversy over some incendiary anti-Muslim ads from pro-Israel activist Pamela Geller. One of those showed a dark looking man covered in an Arab scarf next to the line, “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah.” Another said: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
Amalgamated doesn’t think its ads rise to the same level of vitriol. “It’s outrageous that the MTA would ban an ad that promotes giving New Yorkers a living wage. The #RaiseTheWage campaign is not about politics, it’s about giving the people of New York a fighting chance and Amalgamated Bank is very proud to support and promote this important campaign,” it said in a statement.
We can sympathize with the MTA’s quandary: either it polices what is and isn’t hate speech, or it chooses to de-sanitize its advertising of every opinion, political or otherwise (though suggesting you buy Tide is also an opinion). And it’s an especially difficult decision when the very raison d’être of a company is to promote certain values. But we feel it’s gone too far this time: there’s nothing offensive about paying workers properly and telling people what you’re doing.