Sponsors of the proposed Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, which would require developers receiving substantial taxpayer-funded subsidies to pay workers $10 an hour with benefits, or $11.50 without, unveiled revisions to the bill earlier this month in an attempt to compromise with critics. Whether the newly watered-down version of the legislation is enough to sway its opponents will likely be debated on Nov. 22, when a public hearing for the bill—its second to date—has been scheduled by the City Council.
“$10 an hour—it’s not much we’re asking, given the millions of dollars we’re giving to these projects,” said Bronx Councilwoman Annabel Palma, who along with fellow Bronx Councilman Oliver Koppell, is one of the bill’s main sponsors. “But I also understand that in order to get things done we have to be fair, and have an open mind, and negotiate.”
Those negotiations include raising the threshold for projects that would need to comply with the mandate, and shortening the length of time a developer would have to pay the wages from 30 years to 10 years. Originally, the bill proposed any developer getting $100,000 or more in public subsidies would be required to pay the higher wage; the new version would apply only to projects getting $1 million or more. Small businesses earning $5 million or less in revenue would now be exempt in the revised bill, as would all manufacturing companies and commercial tenants in affordable housing projects.
The changes were introduced just as the city released the final version of a study it commissioned last year, at the cost of $1 million, to explore the effects of a mandated living wage, concluding that it would stifle retail development and kill jobs over the long term.
But critics of the report say it does not take the new version of the bill into account, and also that the firm hired to conduct the study, Boston-based group Charles River Associates, have a longstanding and well-known bias against mandated wages.
“This million dollar report is so flawed it’s not worth the bandwidth for a download,” City Comptroller John Liu said in a statement.
Mayor Bloomberg ordered the study last year, and has long been a vocal opponent to the idea of a living wage. In 2009, the mayor battled a coalition of local activists and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., over a proposed shopping mall at the Bronx’s Kingsbridge Armory, a plan that was ultimately killed because the developer, Related Companies, would not agree to a living wage provision.
The fate of the current bill is now in the hands of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who can kill legislation simply by not bringing it to the council floor for a vote, even if it has enough support to pass (30 council members have signed on with the Living Wage legislation so far, four votes shy of what’s need to override a veto from the mayor).
Quinn has yet to publicly take a side in the debate, though last year she killed another measure that would have required employers to provide paid sick days to workers. In response to queries, her office sent an e-mailed statement from the speaker announcing the Nov. 22 hearing for the public to consider the changes made to the bill, but did not respond to questions about her personal stance.
“Jobs that pay a decent wage are a good thing because they mean a stronger working and middle class and a stronger city,” Quinn said in a statement. “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 businesses to create new jobs in our city.”