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Could a Living Wage Law Finally Be Coming to NYC?
Lauren Kelley

March 5, 2011
View the Original Article

Here we go again.

After the tragic defeat of a paid sick leave bill for New York City workers, the city's businesses, legislators and labor advocates are turning their attention back to a bill that would guarantee a living wage for employees working on city-subsidized projects.

The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act has actually been kicking around since last spring, but it keeps eluding passage. Now, Bronx councilmember Oliver Koppell, who introduced the bill along with fellow councilmember Annabel Palma, is actively pushing the bill in the city council once again.

Here's what the bill would accomplish (via Living Wage NYC):

--Guarantee that workers in large development projects receiving public subsidies are paid at least the New York City living wage of $10 an hour.

--Index the living wage to inflation so that it increases every year and keeps pace with the cost of living.

--Require that employees who do not receive health insurance from their employer receive an additional $1.50 per hour wage supplement to help them purchase their own health insurance.

--Apply the living wage guarantee to all workers at a subsidized development project, regardless of whether they are employed directly by the developer or by the project’s tenants or on-site service contractors.

This is not a radical piece of legislation that would hike wages up to exorbitant amounts. In fact, if you look at this living wage calculator for New York City, you'll see that the bill only ensures a living wage for a single adult. A married person with children would not be able to support a family on $10 per hour. Furthermore, the bill is only focused on a small percentage of New York City workers -- those who work in developments that have received public subsidies from the city's Economic Development Corporation or Industrial Development Agency.

Critics of the bill, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, argue that it would make development projects prohibitively expensive and create an un-level playing field, since employers may not want to move into spaces where they're required to pay higher wages. But proponents of the legislation counter that there are roughly 15 cities that have already passed similar living-wage laws and have suffered no ill consequences as a result. According to a 2010 study from the Center for American Progress, cities that have passed such laws "had the same levels of employment growth overall as a comparable group of control cities."

So here's where the bill stands: according to a recent article in City Limits, it currently has 29 sponsors, which is five short of the two-thirds majority the council will need to override the mayor's veto. According to the article, the "wild card" who could make or break the legislation is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has been amazing in speaking out against a New York City Walmart but has refused to publicly support the New York paid sick leave bill.

We're hoping Quinn will not hold her tongue on this issue as well.

Tell Speaker Quinn that you think it's only fair that companies receiving public funds pay workers a basic living wage -- and you think she should support the bill as well.