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Council Takes on Fight for Living Wages
The Riverdale Press
Aliza Appelbaum

June 3, 2010
View the Original Article


Politicians are rallying behind the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, which would mandate living wages be paid at development projects receiving government subsidies.

Coming half a year after developers lost out on a chance to build a mall inside the Kingsbridge Armory over the same issue, the bill would require any future employers to shell out $10 an hour plus benefits, or $11.50 without.

The legislation was proposed by Bronx Council members Oliver Koppell and Annabel Palma, both of whom ultimately supported requiring living wages at the Armory.

“We already have 20 City Council members on board,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. told The Press at the State Democratic Convention last week.

Mr. Diaz, one of the driving forces behind the battle over the Armory, has long spoken in favor of mandating a living wage in the city.

But the bill’s supporters aren’t taking any chances. They’ve already got a website up, at www.livingwagenyc.org, with an ad campaign and merchandise for sale.

Developers need to know that this time, living wage activists mean business, Mr. Diaz said.

“They rely heavily on taxpayer wallets,” he said. “Making enough money to live on, it’s not too much to ask.”

Another Armory activist, community organizer Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, has also come out in support of the bill.

“This is a step in the right direction,” said Ms. Pilgrim-Hunter, now a candidate for the 33rd District state Senate seat currently held by Pedro Espada Jr. She has indicated that getting what she sees as fair wages is going to be an important issue in her campaign.

“I’d like to see living wages for all workers in New York State,” she said. “Any project taking taxpayer money must have community benefits.”

The main opponent of the bill is considered to be Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has said more than once that wage increases discourage development. He vetoed the Council’s decision over the Armory, but was overridden.

Mr. Bloomberg’s office said the mayor declined to comment on the proposed legislation before it has a public hearing.

But Mr. Koppell said he had already spoken with the mayor about the bill.

“The mayor said that while it was well intentioned, it was unrealistic,” Mr. Koppell said. “But legislation similar to this has been passed in many other cities. I think ours is realistic and we’re willing to negotiate.”

In a different bill proposed last month, Intro 18, the Council will consider amending the prevailing wage laws for the city. Prevailing wages are the union-set rates paid to most laborers.

“The bill would add costs to the very projects that can least afford them — those in the lowest-income areas, those ... that wouldn’t happen on their own without subsidy,” said a spokesman for mayor’s office last month. But Mr. Koppell said his bill was different. “Intro 18 is much more narrowly drawn,” he said. “That one calls for prevailing wages, which are union scale ... Our bill deals with projects that have city subsidies. There’s room for both of them.”