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Kingbsridge Armory Battle Inspires Citywide Living Wage Bill
Bronx News Network
Jeanmarie Evelly

May 26, 2010
View the Original Article


Two Bronx politicians are picking up the torch from the living wage campaign that was at the heart of last year's battle over the Kingsbridge Armory.

City Council members Oliver Koppell and Annabel Palma introduced a bill yesterday, dubbed the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, that would require all development projects that receive public subsidies from the city to pay workers eventually employed there a living wage--$10 an hour with benefits or $11.50 an hour without.

Living wage--just $2.75 more than the mandated minimum wage of $7.25, and adding up to about $18,000 a year, according to Koppell--was a hot button topic last year during the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory. The City Council voted down plans for a shopping mall at the hulking Bronx building in December because Related Companies, the developer, would not agree to a living wage provision for workers there, despite the fact that the group would be getting millions of dollars in taxpayer funded credits.

"Today, we're showing everyone that this debate is not just about one parochial section of the Bronx. This is a citywide debate," said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., who joined a bevy of Bronx pols and leaders--and those from other boroughs--on the steps of City Hall yesterday to show their support of the bill.

The new legislation, if passed, would require all projects across the city that receive more than $100,000 in city funds to provide living wage jobs.

"This bill simply requires developers who want to come into our communities agree to give back to our communities," Palma said.

A similar bill was introduced by Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito in February--the so-called "Good Jobs" bill that would guarantee good wages and benefits to workers in city-subsidized buildings.

"Everything that the city gives, we want a return back for our people," said Council Member Fernando Cabrera, who attended Tuesday's rally. "These properties belong to the people."

Koppell and Palma say they've garnered the support of 20 other Council Members so far, as well as the backing of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and a number of community organizations, including the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, which was instrumental in last year's Armory battle. State Senate hopeful Desiree-Pilgrim Hunter, who served as a leader for the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance and a strong proponent for living wages, also attended yesterday.

At one point, Mayor Bloomberg--who opposed the living wage campaign at the Armory and is expected to show little support for this bill--returned to City Hall and was greeted with boos and chants from the crowd. Opponents of the bill argue that it could halt or impede development projects and economic growth. But supporters scoffed at the idea.

"There is no evidence, scientific or otherswise, that requiring a living wage law kills development projects," said Diaz, Jr.

Debra Smith, a union worker from Concourse Village who attended the rally, says she'd like to see workers like her daughter--a cashier at JC Penney who barely makes ends meet with her minimum wage job--get a fair pay.

"If you want people to do the job, you have to pay them what they deserve," she said. "And I think they deserve more than $7 an hour."