Monday, May 31, 2010

The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act

Picture via KimTheWolf (flickr), showing a protest sign at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. (where the living wage is almost $15 per hour.

The Kingsbridge Armory CBA campaign may have tanked, but its supporters have not been deterred. They're hoping the city council will enact the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, which would mandate a $10 minimum wage for all projects receiving more than $100,000 in subsidies. As many people have argued of late (including myself), institutionalizing the living wage would be preferable to relying on CBAs and deal-by-deal negotiations. "[T]his debate is not just about one parochial section of the Bronx," explained Ruben Diaz, Bronx Borough President. "This is a citywide debate."

Some details about the bill:
  • The law would apply to projects receiving all sorts of subsidies, not just direct cash payments. It would count indirect subsidies like bond financing, tax abatements or exemptions, tax increment financing, fee waivers, energy cost reductions, environmental remediation costs, property acquisition write-downs, and other discretionary assistance.
  • Projects used exclusively for affordable housing, or to house social services, arts, or cultural organizations would be exempt from the wage requirement. (Okay, but what does "exclusive" mean?)
  • Covered employers include the developer/subsidy recipient; subsequent owners of the property; tenants and subtenants; and contractors that work on the project for 30 days or more (including temp services, food service contractors, and on-site service providers). However, non-profits with annual budgets of less than $1 million would not be subject to the wage requirement.
  • Employees would be entitled to a living wage, regardless of their part time, temporary, or seasonal status. Independent contractors would be covered too.
  • The living wage would be $10, or $11.50 for employees not receiving health insurance. These rates would be adjusted annually, based on the local consumer price index.
  • The living wage requirement lasts for the longer of 30 years or the duration of the subsidy.
  • Employers have to post notice of the living wage rules, give a copy of the notice to each employee, and keep records of hours worked and wages paid. The city comptroller's office can inspect those records whenever it wants, either on its own initiative or after receiving a complaint. If an investigation uncovers evidence of a violation, the comptroller would hold a fact finding hearing, and then issue an order, disposition, or settlement. Remedies could include: requiring payment of back pay plus interest to the wronged employee; a fine, not to exceed 200% of the total amount due to the employee; requiring the disclosure of additional records; and/or requiring the reinstatement of any employee retaliated against for trying to enforce the wage requirement.
  • If an employer receives two violations in any six year period, the employer would become ineligible for financial assistance for five years.
  • Developers and employers would also have include clawback provisions in their financial assistance agreements with the city or city economic development agency, and if an employer failed to cure a violation, it could lose its financial assistance and even be required to pay back already received subsidies.
Well, Mayor Bloomberg has predictably opposed the bill. As explained at the Atlantic Yard Report, his reasoning is completely illogical:
Bloomberg's conclusion: "The free market works much better."

"Having the public subsidize some workers and not others is not fair," he added.

Um, couldn't the same be said about "some projects and not others"?

I would add, isn't it a little unfair when employers, but not employees, get subsidies? And c'mon, we're not really talking about socialism here, we're talking about $10 per hour in one of the most expensive cities in the world. We're talking about ensuring families a decent quality of life.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., is one of the bill's chief supporters. City Councilmembers Annabel Palma and G. Oliver Koppell sponsored the bill at his request, and it's received endorsements from about 20 other councilmembers. City comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio are also on board. And about a dozen other community organizations have signed on to the Living Wage NYC campaign.

No doubt we'll be hearing more about this. For more to read:


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