February 15, 2012
by Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
Last month City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced a compromise measure to revise the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act. LaborPress asked Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, to explain his reaction to Quinn’s decision and about the campaign’s hard-fought efforts to raise the wages for workers who work for employers receiving $1 million or more in public subsidies.
The legislation, a product of a campaign directed by Living Wage NYC, a coalition of community groups, churches and labor unions, called for a guarantee that workers working for developers on development projects receiving public subsidies be paid at least $10 an hour, regardless of whether they are employed directly by the developer receiving the subsidies, or the project’s tenants, who would not receive the subsidies.
Appelbaum said the new agreement with Quinn represents the strongest living wage law in the nation.
He explained that the new agreement entails three components. The first one mandates, as noted, that direct recipients of public subsidies pay their workers a living wage.
“For the very first time in the nation, there’s a mandate that establishes the principle that recipients of public funding provide living wage jobs,” said Appelbaum.
In addition, the City Council, working with the Economic Development Corporation, will advance “good-faith attempts” to negotiate contracts with tenants, who are already paying higher wages elsewhere, to pay New Yorkers higher wages.
“The second leg of the agreement is a policy framework, not a statute. As an example, the ECD negotiated with the developer of the old Domino Sugar facility that any supermarket locating there would have to pay prevailing wages,” said Appelbaum.
Also, the agreement establishes a pilot program whereby the City Council will put up $10 million ostensibly to incentivize tenants to move into subsidized economic developments, thereby paying higher wages.
“A pilot program, which will go into effect this year, calls for any developers or retailers who want to receive public funding for capital improvements will have to pay a living wage,” Appelbaum said.
Although Quinn’s compromise measure excludes tenants in subsidized economic developments from being mandated to pay workers at least $10 an hour, Appelbaum noted that, “The question is not whether or not tenants will be covered, because they are, the question is whether or not they are being covered by policy or statute. And we’re doing it by policy as it’s done in every other place in the U.S.”
Overall, Appelbaum is satisfied with the agreement. “I’m very pleased with the result. We’ve established the principle of living wage. There is no place in the U.S. that has a stronger living wage requirement.”
The agreement, the final details of which still need to be finalized, will cover not only “thousands, thousands and thousands of retail workers,” noted Appelbaum, but warehouse, office, university (the soon-to-be built Cornell campus on Roosevelt Island) and other workers whose employers receive public subsidies.
“I expect that this will be the broadest coverage anywhere in the country.”
The Living Wage NYC campaign’s vision all along has been to raise the floor for not just retail, but for other types of workers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, however, has been opposed to the living wage legislation, even though he’s for the minimum wage.
This contradiction roils Appelbaum because he feels nobody takes the Mayor to task on this point.
“Bloomberg’s OK with a prevailing wage because he says it’s determined by market forces. On the other hand, he’s not for a living wage because he says it’s picked, and not determined by market forces. Well, a minimum wage is picked. The logical conclusion of what the Mayor’s saying would be that he’s opposed to a minimum wage, but he’s not. So there is no logic in his argument.” firstname.lastname@example.org