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Debate on Rages Over Wage Bill in New York
New York Times
Javier Hernandez

May 11, 2011
View the Original Article

One side is accusing the Bloomberg administration of using tactics “straight out of the K.G.B.” The other side has screamed “job killing,” taking a page from the national debate over health care.

At issue is a City Council bill that would require developers who receive taxpayer subsidies to pay a “living wage,” from $10 to $11.50 per hour. Hundreds of union supporters, business executives and community advocates are expected to weigh in at a hearing on Thursday, which will probably be one of the most contentious of the year.

Behind the scenes, the lobbying has been intense. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union has coordinated one of the biggest grassroots campaigns in its history, focusing on religious leaders and members of minority groups.

To date, 30 of the Council’s 51 members have signed on, short of the 34 needed to override a veto by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has vehemently opposed the idea.

“There is incredible momentum for a living wage right now, especially from moderates,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the union’s president.

Mr. Bloomberg commissioned a report, released on Monday, that argued that a living wage bill would severely harm the local economy and cost the city tens of thousands of jobs.

Mr. Bloomberg’s view has garnered support from allies in the business world. A coalition of 28 business groups known as Putting New Yorkers to Work has begun its own advertising and lobbying efforts in hopes of quashing the bill.

“Organized labor has become a very powerful and influential and well-oiled machine, and business has not taken that approach before,” said a spokesman for the group, Lee Silberstein.

But despite the intense lobbying efforts on both sides, the most important voice in the debate will probably be that of Christine C. Quinn, the Council speaker, who has the power to stop the bill from coming up for a vote.

Ms. Quinn has often sided with Mr. Bloomberg, but on this issue, she faces a particularly vocal contingent of Council members. Her office has said in recent days only that she looks forward to a vigorous discussion.