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Speaker Announces Living Wage Compromise
The Riverdale Press
Adam Wisnieski

January 13, 2012
View the Original Article

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilman Oliver Koppell and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. announced a compromise on living wage legislation on Jan. 13.

The legislation is significantly different than the latest version of the bill, co-sponsored by Mr. Koppell and Councilwoman Annabel Palma, because only direct beneficiaries of taxpayer subsidies would be required to pay a living wage; their tenants would not.

The bill has not been fully drafted yet, according to Mr. Koppell. He said he expects it to be finished and introduced to the City Council in February, and that it will pass with a veto-proof majority.

The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act — which would require developers that receive taxpayer subsidies to pay workers $10 per hour with benefits or $11.50 without — was originally introduced by Mr. Koppell and Ms. Palma, in 2010, in the aftermath of a fight on the development of the Kingsbridge Armory between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

Mr. Diaz killed the deal because the developer –The Related Companies – would not agree to pay workers a living wage. But if this new legislation were in place at the time of The Related Companies’ mall plan, very few workers would have benefited.

“In a project like the Armory it would only cover a few people because the developer in the Armory is not running anything,” Mr. Koppell said.

Still, Mr. Koppell said the agreement was a step forward.

“I think it fulfills the aim to a limited degree. This is a first step,” he said.

“Am I fully satisfied? No,” he later added.

Mr. Koppell said the new legislation will affect development projects like grocer juggernaut Fresh Direct, which the city has been trying to woo.

Ms. Quinn, who up until now has not supported or agreed to introduce any version of the bill, approached Mr. Koppell on Jan. 12 to say she would back a more limited version of the legislation, which is still yet to be finalized, according to Mr. Koppell, who said he talked it over with Mr. Diaz and they agreed to support it.

The bill has been the subject of two City Council hearings and has already been altered several times. The subsidy threshold that would trigger it was raised and small businesses and manufacturing companies were excluded.

At the end of December, Mr. Koppell said he would not water down the bill any further unless he was guaranteed support from Ms. Quinn.

“In my estimation this is the furthest we’re going to get at this time,” he said.

During an afternoon press conference to announce the compromise, Ms. Quinn also introduced a pilot program fund that will provide incentives to developers willing to create living wage retail jobs in the city.

The main supporters of the legislation released statements in favor of the agreement.

Stuart Appelbaum, the president of RDSWU said he was proud of the work done by his union and other advocates of the legislation.

“There is no question that the living wage movement has changed the conversation about job creation in this city,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Diaz, whose fight with the mayor over a living wage mandate at the armory prompted the legislation, also applauded the deal.

“This bill sends an important message to the business community. Indeed, New York City is open for business, but at a better rate of return for the taxpayer,” Mr. Diaz said in a statement.

A day earlier, Mr. Bloomberg announced during his State of the City address that the New York City Economic Development Corporation was once again releasing a request for proposals for the Kingsbridge Armory after a stalemate between the mayor and borough president left it in limbo for two years.

Mr. Diaz seemed to have backed away from his demand that the city only select from living wage employers.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been a vocal opponent of living wage legislation and has vowed to veto it. In order to override a veto, the bill would need support of 34 of 51 council members. The most recent tally, taken before the most recent changes were announced, shows 29 council members in support of the bill.