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The Bronx is in the middle of Living Wage bill fight for workers
New York Daily News
Daniel Beekman

May 16, 2011
View the Original Article

The Bronx has become the battleground in the brawl over a City Council bill that would force city-subsidized developers to pay their workers more than the minimum wage.

Both supporters and opponents of the Living Wage bill cited Bronx construction projects and rehashed Boogie Down development fights during a standing-room-only hearing last Thursday at City Hall.

Bloomberg administration officials called the bill a "job killer," claiming wage demands doomed the redevelopment of the still-vacant Kingsbridge Armory.

Administration staffer Tokumbo Shobowale called Kingsbridge a "painful episode" that resulted in "zero jobs," and said the bill would scare away developers.

But Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. championed the bill, arguing the Bronx's new Gateway Center shopping mall failed to create good jobs, despite receiving city financing.

"When billionaire developers beg for taxpayer handouts...they must do better by the people they hire," he said.

The bill would set wages at $10, or $11.50 an hour without benefits, for new projects with significant city financing.

Hizzoner's team said it would cost the city more than 33,000 jobs over 20 years, mostly in the outer boroughs, citing a study released last week.

Showbowale claimed a living wage mandate would threaten the Hunts Point market, and a retail and office complex planned for the Hub shopping district.

But most produce market workers - union members making more than $11.50 an hour - would not be affected. The cooperative that runs the market - which has been griping for years that its facility is outdated - declined to comment, citing ongoing negotiations with City Hall.

Triangle Equities, the developer of the Hub complex, didn't return a request for comment.

The study commissioned by the Bloomberg administration focused on the negative impacts of living wage laws elsewhere and questioned the legality of the bill.

But Councilman Oliver Koppell (D-Riverdale), sponsor of the bill, blasted the report as "misleading," while a former Los Angeles official said living wage requirements have reduced poverty there.

The bill has 30 Council backers, but only Council Speaker Christine Quinn can put it to a vote, and she is undecided. Councilman James Vacca (D-East Bronx) is the only member of the Bronx delegation yet to sign on.

Koppell said some projects could still be exempted from the bill; nonprofit housing and small businesses are already excused.

At a raucous rally outside City Hall before the hearing, Linda Archer, 58, of the Bronx, said the minimum wage is not enough.

"The mayor's argument is a lot of bull," said Archer, who works at a McDonald's in a Times Square building developed with city financing.