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It's Time for Speaker Christine Quinn to do the Right Thing by Workers
New York Daily News
Albor Ruiz

March 16, 2011
View the Original Article

Will New Yorkers - some of them at least - finally be paid a little closer to what they deserve?

We would have to ask City Council Speaker Christine Quinn for the answer.

Although the living wage bill introduced in the Council has the backing of most members, only Speaker Quinn has the power to allow a vote on it.

Last year, she killed the paid sick leave bill - which also had very strong Council support - so it is reasonable to wonder what route Quinn will take this time.

She argued at the time that paid sick leave would negatively impact small businesses.

This new bill, the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, makes sense. It would help alleviate the shamefully low wage situation of hundreds of thousands of the city's working poor by requiring employers that receive public tax subsidies to pay employees at least $10 per hour with benefits, or $11.50 without.

This is not a lot of money, particularly in one of the country's most expensive cities, but certainly better than the $7.25 minimum wage. Not surprisingly, the business community opposes it.

"New York has become the economic capital of disparity. The distance between the rich and the poor continues to grow in an astounding way. However, there's still time to bridge that divide, and this movement for living wages is that bridge," said the Rev. Raymond Rivera, of the Latino Pastoral Action Center and member of the Living Wage NYC campaign.

For all practical purposes, the city is subsidizing poverty, according to a new study by the Fiscal Policy Institute, Good Jobs New York, and the National Employment Law Project.

The study, "An Overview of Job Quality and Discretionary Economic Development Subsidies in New York City," found that although more than $2 billion is spent annually in economic development and job creation, a great many workers at the companies receiving those taxpayer-funded subsidies receive poverty level wages.

"It is not only reasonable, but should be demanded, that economic development projects heavily subsidized by taxpayer dollars create living wage jobs, not poverty-wage jobs," said John Liu, the city controller.

The heavily subsidized Bronx Gateway Mall, the new Yankee Stadium, and Fresh Direct pay most of their non-managerial workers poverty wages, the report found. This makes them perfect case studies of this disparity.

"The mayor's proposed budget calls for dramatic cuts in areas like education and human services, [but] how can we close child care centers and cut services for the city's seniors yet lavish money on low-wage employers?" said Michele Mattingly, research associate at the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Most Council members as well as Liu, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., many unions and community groups strongly favor the living wage bill. Yet, without Quinn's approval, it will go nowhere.

Quinn, who shelved the bill for over a year, recently said she plans to hold hearings next month. This is a positive step although Quinn has made clear she has not taken a position yet.

"We're still looking at it," Quinn said last month. "The lead sponsor, Oliver Koppell, has made clear that he wants a hearing on the bill. That's fair to have a hearing as the paid sick leave bill did, and I'll make my position known at the appropriate time."

We know what her position was on the paid sick leave bill and how mindful she has been not to cross the business community as she plans a run for mayor in 2013.

Let's hope this time the speaker will think first and foremost of the well-being of the great majority of New Yorkers.