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Growing Citywide Coalition Demands Council Pass Living Wage Bill

May 12, 2011
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Hundreds Rally, Pack City Council Hearing, Attack Bloomberg Economic Policies

NEW YORK, NY -- At a time when far too many working people struggle to survive, members of a growing citywide movement today demanded living wage jobs for all New Yorkers at a public City Council hearing. At the City Council’s Contracts Committee hearing today, Mayor Bloomberg’s biased and rigged anti-living wage study was also challenged. Council members listened closely as passionate testimonies were delivered throughout the afternoon for passage of the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, popular legislation supported by a majority of City Council that will ensure taxpayer subsidies create more living wage jobs.

“It is the responsibility of elected officials to use taxpayer dollars in a manner that leads to the best return on investment for those same taxpayers. Yet, our City’s current subsidy policies prioritize the return on investment for developers. When billionaire developers put their hands out and demand heavy taxpayer subsidies for their projects, they must do better by their employees. ‘The Fair Wages for New Yorkers’ Act will make sure that happens, and I am proud to lead the fight to make this bill law” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

“Considering the clear economic and social benefits of adopting a policy to require fair wage guarantees for all large development projects, there is no better time than now for New York City to move forward with a clear and enforceable living wage policy. The living wage law that we are proposing will help New York City residents out of poverty and towards financial self-sufficiency. The purpose of this legislation is clear: developers who receive major taxpayer-funded subsidies should pay at least a living wage for the jobs they create,” said Bronx City Council Member Oliver Koppell, chief sponsor of the Act.

“Publicly-supported job creation should lift workers out of poverty, not keep them in it,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Cities around the country have adopted living-wage laws for their economic development projects, and it is time for New York City to catch up.”

"Taxpayers should not be subsidizing minimum wage jobs. When the City issues billions of dollars worth of public benefits to businesses, we should expect that the jobs created pay a living wage," said New York City Comptroller John C. Liu.

At the hearing today, Mayor Bloomberg’s biased and rigged anti-living wage study was also challenged.

The study, “The Economic Impacts on New York City of Proposed Living Wage Mandate,” was spearheaded by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and conducted by economists opposed to living wage and even minimum wage policies who have ties to the Washington, D.C.-based Employment Policies Institute, a front organization created by the controversial lobbyist Richard Berman and funded by low-wage employers to advocate against raising the minimum wage, as detailed in June 2010 by the New York Times.

“Despite the Bloomberg Administration’s smoke screen, a substantial body of evidence shows that living wage policies create good jobs without hurting the economy,” said Paul Sonn of the National Employment Law Project. “The key question facing the City Council is why New York can’t do what Los Angeles and San Francisco have been doing for years: focusing tax-payer subsidies for job creation on businesses that pledge to create quality jobs for local residents.”

In 2003, the city of Los Angeles implemented a similar living wage policy. Donald Spivack, Former Deputy Chief of Operations and Policy, Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, delivered powerful testimony at today’s hearing, pointing to the city’s living wage policies as not inhibiting new development or job growth in any way.

“Our agency has found the living wage policy to be an effective tool for ensuring that taxpayer subsidized economic development creates quality jobs for Los Angeles’ communities. We have not found that it has inhibited new development or job growth in any way. In fact, even in the current economy, 23 living wage covered projects are actively entering the approval process, a strong indication that the developers are not deterred by the living wage requirement. Instead, we view the policy as a key component of our development strategy – one which complements our work to attract new businesses, build new housing, and strengthen the city’s tax and economic base,” said Spivak.

Nearly $2 billion in taxpayer money is spent every year on economic development subsidies, yet most non-managerial jobs created with that money are low-wage, according to a recent report issued jointly by the National Employment Law Project, Fiscal Policy Institute, and Good Jobs New York.

The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act would require employers that receive major public tax subsidies to pay employees at least $10 per hour with benefits, or $11.50 without. The living wage legislation now has 30 City Council co-sponsors.

“The gap between rich and poor in New York City is at its most pronounced,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, UFCW. Wall Street is bouncing back from the recession of the last few years, but middle class and low wage workers are not. The best way to combat the increasing numbers of working poor is for the city to support policies that will increase the wages of workers. And the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act will do just that. It seeks to guarantee that economic development policies consider the needs of workers as well as businesses and helps raise workers from poverty wage jobs.

“Now is the time for New York City to take a close look at the true cost of all developments that are subsidized by taxpayer money. Otherwise, New York City will continue to face growth in working poverty. ie: some of the working poor are part of the 1.7 million people in NYC using food stamps to survive. Can't we do better for our workforce?” said Mark Jaffe, Chief Executive Officer of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, who testified in favor of the living wage bill.

“When I worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he knew that it was not enough to win the battle for civil rights. We had to have the economic resources to fully exercise those rights and need to win the battle for economic justice. And history has shown Dr. King’s teachings to be true.” said Rev. John Scott, Pastor of St. John’s Baptist Church in Brooklyn, who is working with clergy all over the city as part of an ongoing effort to raise awareness of the living wage campaign in the faith community as part of the Living Wage NYC Faith Caucus.

“For 5 years, I worked at the concession stand and gift shop at the Statue of Liberty, where I earned $8.25 per hour. My hard work made a difference to this city by creating a positive experience for both tourists and New York residents, but I could barely afford to live. Does this sound like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?” said retail worker Kim Ortiz in a moving testimony.

“This city needs a change. We are providing charity to extremely profitable businesses while workers suffer. This isn’t right. We need a living wage and we need one now!”

More than 45 cities have enacted such legislation and have found that these policies create quality jobs for local residents without slowing economic growth or preventing economic development. New York City is behind the times on this issue and, as a result, publicly subsidized developments are keeping people in poverty-wage jobs, rather than providing them with opportunities to get ahead.