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Political Arena: Wage Change
The Riverdale Press
Adam Wisnieski

June 22, 2011
View the Original Article

The first thing Councilman Oliver Koppell said at the public hearing for his living wage bill on May 12 was that the contentious legislation was open to negotiation. A month later, Mr. Koppell said he is considering a series of amendments to make the bill “more acceptable in light of some of the arguments made at the hearing.”

The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act would require any developers who receive taxpayer subsidies to offer a “living wage” — defined as paying at least $10 an hour with benefits or $11.50 without.

Mr. Koppell is considering changing the bill to limit the type of business it would affect, though he said it does not change the focus of the bill. Right now, the bill would require all businesses with annual revenues over $1 million that received taxpayer subsidies over $100,000 to pay a living wage. Mr. Koppell did not get specific about the changes, but Dan Morris of Living Wage NYC said the annual revenue could be raised as high as $5 million and Crain’s New York Business reported the subsidy threshold could be pushed as high as $1 million.

Mr. Koppell said any changes are “intended to focus the legislation on the large projects, ones that have substantial numbers.”

The target of the legislation is big development projects that use millions in taxpayer subsidies, but result in minimum wage jobs with no benefits.

The Kingsbridge Armory, the development over which the fight began, would still be affected as Related Companies was offered $60 million in taxpayer subsidies to build a shopping mall there.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. battled Mayor Michael Bloomberg over the armory in late 2009. Mr. Bloomberg supported the space being occupied by a mall developed by the Related Companies. But Mr. Diaz argued that development projects receiving taxpayer subsidies should have to offer living wage jobs. The project died when Mr. Diaz and the Bloomberg administration came to an impasse on living wages. The battle has continued and Mr. Koppell has made changes to the bill as critics, mostly in the business community, have blasted it.

Mr. Koppell said he did not think he was negotiating against himself at the hearing when he brought up his willingness to change the bill before anyone testified.

“I think our point was, we had heard a lot of complaints,” he said. “We want to make it clear that we’re not anxious to streamroll over anybody. We’re anxious to meet their concerns if they are legitimate.”

One of the biggest pushers for the mandate, Living Wage NYC, said the possible amendments are acceptable.

“This is tinkering around the edges. This is not really cutting into the core of the bill,” Mr. Morris of Living Wage NYC said.

Critics say the bill would hurt development in the city, but Mr. Koppell and Mr. Morris disagree.

Although the bill received more attention after a May 12 hearing downtown, the two-year-old bill has not come to a vote in the council. A majority of the city council — 31 out of 51 — favors it but City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has floundered on the issue.

Mr. Koppell said he met with Ms. Quinn last week to discuss the bill, but she did not make a commitment for or against the legislation.

“I think it went well,” he said.

Mr. Koppell said he would work with Ms. Quinn’s staff on the bill.