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Stop Blocking a Living Wage
The Riverdale Press

October 12, 2011
View the Original Article

A growing number of people occupying Wall Street are raising awareness about the inherent unfairness of corporate welfare.

How can we bail out banks and give tax breaks to oil companies without also helping regular Americans who are suffering?

That question has been the subject of a struggle that began in the Bronx long before encampments popped up in Zuccotti Park. Now, it is once again coming to a head at City Hall.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the same man who recently lamented having to pay city workers overtime to manage signs of populist discontent on Wall Street, has lashed out against supporters of living wage legislation that would force developers receiving heavy government subsidies to pay a minimum of $10 an hour with benefits and $11.50 without.

The bill, sponsored by Riverdale/Kingsbridge Councilman Oliver Koppell, emerged from a battle over how best to develop the Kingsbridge Armory, which stands vacant right in our backyard.

Related Companies was set to receive millions of dollars in subsidies for developing the iconic property and by some accounts was willing to agree to a living wage mandate.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. pushed hard for the mandate, but Mr. Bloomberg pushed back, effectively killing the deal and characterizing proponents of a living wage as anti-capitalist.

He and multiple editorial pages went on to blame Mr. Diaz for turning jobs away from a borough desperately hurting for them.

But as the borough president’s spokesman John DeSio put it: “Since when was capitalism about putting your hand out and making everything you can for yourself?”

That’s the same question being asked by people, including those from the Northwest Bronx, occupying Wall Street. And City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is expected to run for mayor in 2013, can probably hear their demonstrations from her City Hall office. Yet she refuses to even bring Mr. Koppell’s bill to the floor for a vote.

The mayor’s most recent attempt to persuade the public to dismiss the legislation — a 354-page New York City Economic Development Corporation report conducted by Charles River Associates at a cost of $1 million — concluded months before it was ever released that a living wage would increase “extreme poverty.” It was authored in part by a vocal opponent of the minimum wage and does not even take amendments to the bill into account.

New aspects of the legislation, which Mr. Koppell and Mr. Diaz worked on together, raise the subsidy threshold for which developers would be required to pay a living wage and exempts many more small businesses and all manufacturers from the mandate.

The self described 99 percent who are occupying Zuccotti Park cite the statistic that 1 percent of the country controls more than 40 percent of the nation’s wealth.

Little of that money has found its way to our borough, where 27.6 percent of families lived below the poverty line in 2010, far above the 11.3 percent of families living below the poverty line both in city and nationwide averages.

The percentage of Bronxites living in poverty is higher than it has been at any time since 2004 and unemployment is as high as 15.8 percent.

It is clear the Bronx desperately needs to put more people to work, but without a living wage, even gainfully employed workers will continue to slip into poverty.

As the call for a reassessment of this country’s values grows louder on Wall Street, the least the city council — and its speaker — can do is to get behind Mr. Koppell’s moderate call for fairness.

Call Speaker Christine Quinn at 212-564-7757. Write her an e-mail at quinn@council.nyc.ny.us. Rally outside City Hall. Let her know that by blocking a vote on a living wage she is jeopardizing her chance to be the city’s next mayor.