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Living Wage Bill Wins Some, Loses Some, Support
The Riverdale Press
Adam Wisnieski

November 23, 2011
View the Original Article

St. Anne's Church chorus member Linda Archer raises her fist in support during the Living Wage at a rally at in Harlem on Nov. 21.When the City Council held its second hearing on Councilman Oliver Koppell’s living wage bill on Tuesday, both sides had gained supporters, but the living wage bill lost an important one: Councilwoman Inez Dickens.

The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act — which would require developers that receive taxpayer subsidies to pay workers $10 per hour with benefits or $11.50 without — was originally introduced by Mr. Koppell and his colleague, Councilwoman Annabel Palma, in 2010, in the aftermath of a fight between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. on the development of the Kingsbridge Armory.

After a city council hearing and a round of changes to the bill, the council held a second hearing on Tuesday.

On Monday night, more than 1,000 supporters of the legislation rallied at Riverside Church in Manhattan, along with elected officials, religious leaders and labor union officials.

Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, read a statement in support of the legislation that was recently issued by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York.

Proponents of the bill were not the only ones to pick up new notable support. District Council No. 9 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades recently threw its weight behind the bill’s opponents, saying the legislation will make it harder for the city to attract new jobs, according to news reports. Business groups also started running television advertisements about the legislation, saying it will hurt the city’s economy.

Still, neither the Catholic Church, DC 9 or the numerous labor unions and business organizations involved in the issue will get to cast a vote on the bill; Ms. Dickens will.

Ms. Dickens, whose district includes Riverside Church, recently withdrew her support for the bill because of what she says are concerns over how it will affect small businesses, according to her spokesperson Lynette Velasco.

Ms. Velasco said Ms. Dickens “believes in a living wage” but “does not want to drive employers, especially small businesses out of our city.”

Ms. Dickens spoke in support of living wage at a rally in the Bronx in January. Since then, legislators have included additional exemptions for small business in a revised version of the bill. The legislation now exempts small businesses that make less than $5 million per year, up from $1 million in the previous version.

But Ms. Velasco said “When [Ms. Dickens] spoke about it, there were still negotiations going on. There were still discussions going on.”

Mr. Koppell said he recently discussed the potential new law with Speaker Christine Quinn and he has always said he is willing to rework the bill to appease detractors. Mr. Koppell said Ms. Quinn has still not made a commitment in favor or against the bill.

She plays a key role in the future of the legislation because she is charged with bringing it to the floor for a vote.

If she decides to do that, it will presumably pass with 29 votes. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been a vocal opponent of the legislation and would most likely veto it. To make the legislation veto-proof, two-thirds, or 34 of 51 council members, would be needed to override the mayor.

At one point, the bill had 31 co-sponsors, but Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley dropped off last year.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said the Bloomberg administration’s attempts at addressing poverty have failed.

“Mr. Mayor, what we’re saying is, be in the spirit of one of your heroes, Mayor LaGuardia, a man whose mission in life was to help the masses, not the classes,” Mr. Diaz said.

“We should be ashamed if we don’t pass that bill in the city council,” Mr. Koppell said. “What is $10 an hour? It’s barely enough to survive.”

At the hearing on Tuesday, supporters and opponents testified on the most recent version of the bill, which includes amendments that exclude manufacturing businesses and increase the threshold for developers to only include those that receive more than $1 million, up from $100,000.

Lawrence Mandelker, of the New York Metropolitan Retail Association said living wage legislation, would cause chain retailers to open stores outside city lines in Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey.

“All employers covered by this bill will pay more to be in business and charge its customers more for goods and services,” he said, according to testimony.

Other representatives from the city’s chambers of commerce and retail organizations spoke out against the bill despite its amendments, saying it will be a job killer and hurt the city’s economy.