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Fair Wage Woes to Change in New York, Higher Pay Rate Coming
New York Amsterdam News
Cyril Josh Barker

February 10, 2012
View the Original Article

Members of the City Council are being urged to pass the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, which could give workers an hourly wage of $11.50.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said that she would unveil a compromise that would reportedly require higher pay rates at subsidized developments and an incentive fund of up to $10 million to get retailers on board to guarantee a living wage.

Quinn also wants the city's Economic Development Corp. to adopt a policy of negotiating development packages that would result not just in the recipients of subsidies creating higher wage jobs, but also their tenants.

"No one bill can single-handedly raise wages for all minimum wage workers, but we will take a fair and philosophically sound step forward," Quinn said. "Legislation is powerful, but by its nature it can be limited. The issue of raising the salaries of workers in a way that promotes job growth is complicated and deserves a more comprehensive response than just legislation."

Members of the City Council are sounding off on the compromise. Councilwoman Leticia James said that the living wage bill helps working poor New Yorkers and that it will give people money to make a better living in the city.

"Millions of dollars a year in taxpayer-financed subsidies are provided to private developers by the city of New York, and these employers should pay decent wages," she said. "The Living Wage Bill will go a long way to help lift families out of poverty; I thank my colleagues in the Progressive Caucus for pushing to restore progressive politics back to its core."

In a statement by Living Wage NYC, the advocacy group said that while they don't think the new bill is "ideal," they support it and are urging the City Council to pass it.

"This bill is an important and meaningful step in achieving living wage jobs for all low-wage workers. We will hold the speaker and the council accountable to make sure that the final language of the bill moves the goals of our coalition forward," Living Wage NYC's statement read. "We will keep fighting, and we will not stop until all New Yorkers earn a living wage."

While a living wage is one way to help New Yorkers get more money, there was a recent breakthrough in the fight to raise the minimum wage. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblyman Keith Wright introduced legislation to raise the state's minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. The current minimum wage is $7.50. The legislation will also set wages for food service workers who get tips at $5.86.

"Raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation is a matter of economic fairness, and our plan progressively rewards hardworking men and women who are trying to make ends meet," said Wright. "According to the U.S. Census, nearly half of all Americans have fallen into poverty or joined the ranks of the working poor. This is not the American Dream. New Yorkers who work full time shouldn't be poor. It's as simple as that."

Not everyone is in favor of raising the minimum wage. A study released by the Employment Policies Institute (EPI) says that the last state-mandated New York minimum wage increase had a substantial negative impact on the employment of 16- to 29-year-olds without a high school diploma.

Based on employment trends, EPI said future increases in New York's minimum wage would likely reduce opportunities for the least-skilled and least-experienced members of the state's workforce.

"The findings of this study should give pause to well-intentioned legislators in Albany seeking to further raise the state's minimum wage," said Michael Saltsman, a research fellow at EPI. "With an unemployment rate for young adults that's currently averaging above 24 percent, the state can scarcely afford a policy that makes it even tougher for this inexperienced group to find work and enhance their future earning potential."