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Living Wage Bill Faces Major Pushback
Globe St.
Paul Bubny

May 26, 2010
View the Original Article

With a rally on the steps of City Hall, a broad coalition of lawmakers, community groups and labor unions has launched the Living Wage NYC campaign, centering around a bill introduced to the City Council on Tuesday. The bill, which would set a wage floor of $10 per hour plus benefits for jobs generated from development projects receiving at least $100,000 in subsidies, is likely to encounter substantial pushback, not least from Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"The issue here is there are a bunch of projects that don't work on their own, and the city thinks that they have merit, and so we subsidize them," Bloomberg told reporters Monday. "Those are not projects that could stand higher costs. If anything, they have lower costs. And I think if you had a bill like that, a lot of them just would not go through."

Referring to last December’s City Council 45-1 vote to oppose the rezoning of Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx due to the developer’s refusal to guarantee a living wage for workers at the 575,000-square-foot mixed-use project, Bloomberg said that instead of having the jobs and stores that the project would have produced, "we have nothing. And that’s exactly what this bill would do. It’s a nice idea, but is poorly thought out and will not work."

In line with her comments following the Kingsbridge Armory defeat, Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, told Crain’s New York Business this week that action on the measure should wait until after the Bloomberg administration completes its recently announced study on the impact of living-wage mandates. "Legislation is forever," she said. "Markets go up and down, and this could threaten bringing jobs and economic activity to low-income neighborhoods, particularly during difficult times."

However, a spokesman for Council Member G. Oliver Koppell, who introduced the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act with Council Member Annabel Palma, tells GlobeSt.com that the bill’s sponsors don’t see the costs of providing a living wage as prohibitive to developers. "They’re not looking to bankrupt anyone," the spokesman says. "This bill would mean an annual salary of $18,000, which is hard enough to live on in New York City." It’s also in line with the city’s own living-wage requirement for service contractors, which was enacted in 2002.

The spokesman says the bill has already garnered the support of at least two dozen council members from across the five boroughs. Koppell and Palma both represents districts in the Bronx, where Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is spearheading the Living Wage NYC campaign.

At press time, it was not known exactly how many members had signed on as cosponsors. At least 34 votes would be necessary to override a Bloomberg veto, which appears likely in view of the mayor’s comments.

If enacted, the bill would apply only to future projects, and not retroactively to those already under way. Also exempt would be projects devoted solely to affordable housing and those that house cultural or social services organizations.