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Bronx Pols Say Living Wage Study is Rigged
Norwood News
Alex Kratz

November 4, 2010
View the Original Article

New legislation guaranteeing good paying jobs at development projects that receive significant city subsidies is gaining momentum in the City Council. But backers of the bill, including Bronx Councilman Oliver Koppell, say the mayor’s office is stacking the deck in opposition to it.

Recently, the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which is controlled by the mayor, spent $1 million to commission a study of how wage guarantees would impact the city economically.

Last week, however, Koppell and several other Council members blasted the EDC at a press conference in front of City Hall, saying the group they commissioned to produce the study, the Boston-based Charles River Associates, has demonstrated a history of opposing living wage ($10 an hour, plus benefits, or $11.50 an hour without benefits) and even minimum wage guarantees.

EDC spokesman Julie Wood said the agency issued a request for proposals to find a suitable organization for the study and chose Charles River because they were the best of five candidates.

The Council members based their charges on the findings of the Fiscal Policy Institute and National Employment Law Project. The nonprofit groups created a report detailing Charles River’s record of opposing guarantees.

“It appears that our worst fears about the fairness of the EDC study have now been confirmed,” said Koppell, who is the primary sponsor of the bill, called the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act.

The report on Charles River says the firm’s economists, David Neumark and David Hamermesh, have ties to the Employment Policies Institute (EPI), an organization created by Washington, DC lobbyist Richard Berman and funded by low-wage employers to fight wage guarantees. A group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington created a website dedicated to “exposing” Berman for, among other things, fighting against wage guarantees using front organizations fueled by money from industries that benefit from low-wage workers.

“David Neumark, the economist leading EDC’s study, has spent his entire career criticizing not just living wage policies, but even the minimum wage,” said Paul Sonn, of the National Employment Law Project, in a statement. “On the EDC study, he’s proposing to use a ‘junk science’ methodology that has already been exposed by other researchers as flawed and unreliable.”

In a statement, EPI responded, saying “Studies by Neumark and Hamermesh are not the opinions of political hacks; they are the careful and studied conclusions of experienced labor economists, who are more than qualified to serve as economists on a study of a proposed living wage law.”

Wood said the groups criticizing Charles River were picking and choosing their facts and that, if you look at the whole body of work for the economists, they have a well-rounded history of analysis. “They won’t ever be happy,” Wood said of the groups criticizing Charles River.

The push for living wage guarantees began after the City Council killed a plan to turn the Kingsbridge Armory into a shopping mall because it did not guarantee living wage jobs for workers at a revamped Armory.

Officials for the Related Companies, the Manhattan-based outfit picked by the city to develop the Armory, said they wouldn’t agree to guarantee living wage jobs at any New York development project unless it was required by law.

The Related Companies was set to receive nearly $100 million in tax breaks and other city subsidies.

Koppell, who represents parts of Norwood and Bedford Park, says the Fair Wages act would guarantee living wages for permanent jobs created at city-subsidized developments.

The bill now has 28 sponsors, which would be a majority, but not the two-thirds super majority needed to overturn a mayoral veto of the bill. Annabel Palma, the head of the Bronx’s Council delegation is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Living wage legislation has been passed in 15 other cities. Koppell will read the study produced by Charles River, but says he doesn’t “think it’s going to convince me to stop pushing these bills.”