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A Second Life for the Living-Wage Bill
Crain's New York
Daniel Massey

October 17, 2011
View the Original Article


Although revisions have failed to placate opponents, a measure to require jobs at some subsidized developments to pay at least $10 an hour will get a hearing, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced.

A bill that seeks to compel employers at subsidized developments to pay workers $10 an hour plus benefits, or $11.50 without benefits, will get a second hearing in the City Council, Speaker Christine Quinn said Monday.

Ms. Quinn’s announcement gives new life to the bill, which has been watered down since a May hearing in an attempt to make it palatable to opponents and easier for the speaker to bring to a vote. The hearing will be Nov. 22, a day after backers have scheduled a rally at Riverside Church to coincide with Thanksgiving week.

“The living-wage bill introduced last year has undergone significant amendments,” Ms. Quinn said in a statement. “Given all of the responsibilities of the council, it is appropriate that the new legislation is given a full public hearing.”

Among the changes, the new bill raises the subsidy threshold at which the living wage requirement would kick in to $1 million, from $100,000. It exempts small businesses with revenues of $5 million or less, up from $1 million or less in the old bill. And it carves out manufacturing business, projects that receive as-of-right subsidies, and commercial tenants in certain affordable housing developments. The measure reduces the requirement to pay a living wage to 10 years, from the original bill’s 30.

“Supporters of this bill have been very mindful of the concerns of our opposition, and we believe that the changes to this bill show a serious effort to address the issues raised,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

The announcement of the hearing comes just weeks after the city released a $1 million study that argues the bill would be a job-killer. The study, which was criticized by the bill’s proponents, said the bill would stifle development, particularly in the outer boroughs, and cost tens of thousands of jobs over the next 20 years.

“Amendments or no amendments, wage mandates don’t create jobs, and jobs are what we need today,” said Nancy Ploeger, president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, which is part of a business coalition opposing the legislation. “We will be prepared for the hearing and go back ready to discuss the points we brought up in the first hearing.”

Proponents of the bill cheered Ms. Quinn’s move, though it does not necessarily mean the speaker intends to bring the measure to a vote. She held a hearing on a bill calling for mandatory paid sick days, then shelved it.

“We look forward to demonstrating at the next hearing that this bill has a lot of support and can play a critical role in reducing economic inequality and rebuilding the middle class in this city,” said a spokesman for Living Wage NYC, a coalition of labor and community groups led by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

In her statement, the speaker was non-committal. She said that “jobs that pay a decent wage are a good thing because they mean a stronger working and middle class and a stronger city.” But she also said that “in light of the current economy, we in government are also required to do everything possible to keep jobs in New York City and to encourage business to create new jobs.”