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Faith Community Sees Results on Living Wage
Odyssey Networks

February 15, 2012
View the Original Article

New York faith leaders gathered at a Harlem church on Wednesday to celebrate what they call a victory in their battle for "living wage" legislation. Odyssey Networks has been following this story since it emerged in May 2011 and had an inside track to the day’s events.

From Jews to Episcopalians, more than two dozen faith community members convened at the St. John's Baptist Church to recognize the fruit of their efforts – the January announcement by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn of a proposal to increase wages for workers in development projects that receive tax breaks and other subsidies from the city. The proposal, as Quinn announced it, however, excludes employees of retail and commercial tenants in these city-subsidized developments – a provision the faith and labor leaders hoped Quinn would support.

"I think that our hard work paid off. The strength of the living wage coalition of labor and faith and community groups is powerful enough to change the whims of City Hall," said the Rev. Peter Heltzel, director of the Micah Institute at New York Theological Seminary. "As faith leaders, we’ve been organizing for centuries, the struggle goes on."

Quinn's office is working to finalize the language of the "living wage" legislation, and the city council is expected to vote on it in March. Since the debate heated up over the summer and fall, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office has said repeatedly that he is concerned that such a law would lead to developers cutting jobs. He is expected to veto the legislation if it passes, but the city council could then override the veto.

Under the Quinn compromise, companies that make over $5 million a year and get a direct subsidy from the city of $1 million or more are required to pay workers $10 an hour, plus $1.50 if health insurance is offered by the employer. The requirement also applies to contractors and subcontractors of the developer. In lieu of the mandate that retail workers in city-subsidized developments also receive wages of $10 an hour, the Quinn proposal requires the city to undertake a $10 million pilot program to provide additional subsidies to developers compelling their stores to pay the "living wage."