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Fight for Fair Wages
The Riverdale Press

May 19, 2011
View the Original Article

Councilman Oliver Koppell is serious about the battle for a living wage in New York City.

Not only did he co-sponsor the Fair Wages For New Yorkers Act, he has also said that he would consider discharging the bill out of committee — a rare move that requires a majority vote — to bring the legislation to the City Council floor if Speaker Christine Quinn does not support doing so.

The bill has been stalled for more than a year even though it has majority support.

“There are clearly areas in which this legislation has been adopted by other municipalities and has worked to increase wages for a certain substantial number of workers,” Mr. Koppell said, after a City Council hearing on the issue last week.

However, some say living wage legislation will scare developers away because it would require those who receive taxpayer subsidies of over $100,000 to pay $10 per hour with benefits and $11.50 without; that it would actually hurt the low-wage earners it seeks to help.

The same argument is still used by opponents of the minimum wage every time a raise is proposed. It was also the conclusion of a recently released report commissioned by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has vehemently opposed the living wage legislation.

Paid for by the city’s Economic Development Corporation at the cost of $1 million, the report on a yet-to-be-released study does not take into account the increased spending power of living wage earners or decreased spending on welfare programs when workers make enough to pay their own way. It also does not discuss how prevailing wage or living wage laws for home health care workers have affected the city. Meanwhile, other studies, such as The Impact of Living Wages on Employers: A Control Group Analysis of the Los Angeles Ordinance, have found that living wage laws have no impact on employment levels.

One has to wonder why our mayor wants to aid big corporations, but thinks it’s alright for New Yorkers who work for a living to have to scrounge for their meals. Because, before the living wage bill was ever proposed, before he ever commissioned a study, Mr. Bloomberg helped kill a mall deal being brokered by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. for the now-vacant Kingsbridge Armory rather than require vendors to pay living wages. Since then, Related Companies, which was supposed to develop the mall, has made a deal in Los Angeles in which the company’s tenants will be required to pay workers a living wage.

The federal minimum wage and city minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, The Bronx Gateway Mall received $10 million in New York City subsidies and had about 1,300 workers employed in spring 2010, most of whom made an average starting wage of $8.80 an hour — $1.55 more than the minimum wage. The median wage was $10.20.

Yankee Stadium, which received nearly $50 million in tax breaks, $326 million in city capital improvements and more than $1.2 billion in tax-exempt financing, pays just a little better. In spring 2010, the average starting wage for non-managerial workers was $9.19 and hour and the median wage was $10.50.

Too many New Yorkers go to work everyday only to bring home pennies.

The lowest wage earners have actually seen their incomes decrease in the last two decades. Of the nearly 400,000 New York City families at or below the federal poverty level of in 2008-2009, 38 percent had at least one family member who was employed, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Today, the national poverty threshold is $22,491, but if you work 40 hours a week at minimum wage, you’ll only earn a little over $15,000 a year. Even if you worked for a year at Yankee Stadium’s median wage, you would still fall below the poverty threshold.

Those who work for a living deserve more and taxpayers should not be asked to subsidize companies that keep people impoverished.

Mr. Koppell should continue to do whatever it takes to pass living wage legislation in New York, and voters should view anyone who votes against the legislation or fails to bring it to a vote as legislators who think it’s fair for their constituents to be paid unfair wages.