Friday, October 21, 2011

"Living" Wage proposal refuses to die

Another story from this week's issue.

By Brendan McHugh 

With increasing pressure from living wage advocates and a new, watered-down bill, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has scheduled a public hearing on the controversial living wage bill.

“The living wage bill introduced last year has undergone significant amendments,” 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.”

The hearing, scheduled for Nov. 22, breathes new life into the bill yet again, which has had to undergo significant changes due to staunch opposition from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, real estate giants and big business.

Quinn has yet to take a stance on the bill and thus far has refused to let it come to a vote on the Council floor despite support from at least 30 of the 51 Council Members.

Jump below for the full story.
The living wage bill would force employers at subsidized developments to pay workers $10 an hour plus benefits, or $11.50 without benefits.

City Councilman G. Oliver Koppell, one of the bill’s two original sponsors, was delighted to hear the news.

“I think it’s an important step forward,” he said. “We’ve made major revisions to the proposal to get less opposition. I think the fact that she has scheduled a hearing signals that she has sympathy towards the proposals.”

Among the changes that Koppell and Annabel Palmer, the other Council sponsor, have made include raising the subsidy threshold at which the living wage requirement would kick in to $1 million, from $100,000. Koppell said two weeks ago that increases the subsidy level was a major step in pleasing critics.

It also eliminates 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. Koppell considered all of those, plus more, major appeasements.

But despite that, opposition remains persistent.

Last week, the city released the final version of a $1 million study that argues the bill would be a job-killer. The study said the bill would suppress development, particularly in the outer boroughs, and cost thousands of jobs over the coming decades.

The hearing will come one day after living wage supporters hold their own event to rally support for the bill. On Nov. 21, Living Wage NYC coalition is holding a gathering at Riverside Church in Manhattan. A spokesperson said they were have been very encouraged with the developments over the last few weeks, not only with Koppell’s adjustments to garner more support, but also with things such as Occupy Wall Street, which they said show that people aren’t going to settle for wage inequality any longer.

“When significant taxpayer funding is used to make private projects a reality, developers must do better by the people they employ. The ‘Fair Wages for New Yorkers’ Act will ensure that happens,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

Koppell introduced the bill on behest of Diaz. Diaz said he plans to testify at the Nov. 22 hearing.

In May, a poll by Baruch College Survey Research was released, showing that New Yorkers overwhelmingly support such living wage laws. The survey showed that 78 percent of New Yorkers agree with requiring employers that get taxpayer-funded city subsidies to pay $10-an-hour plus benefits, while just 15 percent do not. This includes 83 percent of all Democrats, 74 percent of independents, and 56 percent of Republicans.

Last week, 16 Bronx state legislators signed a letter to Quinn asking for her support on the living wage bill.

“Given the millions of dollars in profits developers take home to make these projects work, and the heavy subsidies that supplement that profit, we do not think it is too much to ask that the jobs created offer a ‘living wage,’” they wrote. “In fact, it is the very least we can do, especially when these developments are taking so heavily from the taxpayers’ wallet.”

And while proponents of the bill cheered the announcement of a hearing, it does not necessarily mean Quinn will bring the measure to a vote. She held a hearing on a bill calling for mandatory paid sick days but never brought it to a vote.

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