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Unions, Labor Advocates Sound Off Before City Council Hearing On Living Wages
Zack Fink

November 21, 2011
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The City Council is holding a Tuesday hearing to discuss a measure that would require some companies doing business with the city to pay more than minimum wage, and both supporters and detractors held events in Manhattan on Monday.

The measure would require a base wage of $10 an hour plus benefits, or $11.50 an hour without benefits. That is significantly higher than the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Only development projects that receive city subsidies of $1 million or more would be affected by the law. Small businesses and non-profits would be exempt.

At Riverside Church in Morningside Heights on Monday night, religious groups and former workers of big-box stores held a rally and said the bill would ensure workers' quality of life.

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan sent a representative to the meeting to read his statement in support of the measure.

"It's very erratic hours, it's very low pay, an unpredictable schedule. The money that you get, it's next to impossible to pay rent on, much less buy food," said former chain store employee Nick Pellman. "It's a very difficult way to make a living."

Meanwhile, rank-and-file union members voiced their opposition to the living wage law on the steps of City Hall.

Unions, Labor Advocates Sound Off Before City Council Hearing On Living Wages The group, made up mostly of painters and construction workers, said the law would drive away jobs and hurt an already struggling economy.

"I'm a union rep. I'm all about higher wages, but unfortunately I have to operate in the real world," said Jack Kittle of District Council 9. "There are economic forces beyond our control that determine what wages are going to be."

Two years ago, a plan to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx fell apart because the City Council insisted on living wage provisions.

"The armory project would have created more than 1,100 unionized construction and another 1,000 post-construction jobs," said an opponent of the living wage bill.

"The Kingsbridge Armory had something where they were getting $10 an hour, plus benefits. That is when it will actually benefit the community," said Morenike Dagbo of the Living Wage NYC Campaign. "It's the community's money, and the community deserves to have living wage jobs and benefits provided by their employer."

NY1 has learned a clear majority of the City Council — 29 members — supports the bill, but City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has not said whether she supports the measure or whether she will bring it to a vote.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and some business groups are publicly opposed to the bill.