Quinn unveils a pared-down living wage bill, pleasing Wylde and Appelbaum at the same time

Appelbaum, Oliver Koppell, Ruben Diaz Jr. and Wylde. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has for months publicly dithered on the living wage bill, announced a pared-down version of the legislation on Friday afternoon at City Hall. The compromise offers labor interests an actual wage-hike mandate, and offers the business lobby the exceptions to the mandate that it was looking for.

"This legislation will require companies that receive substantial subsidies from the City of New York to pay their employees a living wage of $10 or $11.50 an hour depending on benefits," said the speaker. "I believe it is a fair and appropriate thing for government to place requirements on businesses that have voluntarily entered into an economic development agreement with the city of New York."

She was joined at the press conference by both Stuart Appelbaum, the local labor leader who has been the staunchest and most outspoken advocate for a living wage bill, and Kathryn Wylde, the C.E.O. of the Partnership for New York City, a business lobby that, along with the mayor, has consistently opposed the bill.

The speaker's living-wage compromise would require a limited group of developers who receive city subsidies to pay employees $10 an hour with health benefits or $11.50 without. The minimum wage in New York State is now $7.25.

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It’s a compromise that 32BJ, the union that represents building service workers, has been backing for a while now.

Quinn's office estimates the revised bill will impact about 75 to 85 percent of the 600 to 700 workers that would have been covered by the original bill.

As part of the compromise, Quinn called upon the city's Economic Development Corporation, which is overseen by the mayor's office, to give priority to city-subsidy applicants whose retail tenants would also pay living wage.

The original living wage bill, pushed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, would have required rather than recommended that the tenants of subsidized developers pay living wage.

"Our city’s Economic Development Corporation must adopt and have a policy goal of negotiating development packages that result in not just the recipients of subsidies creating higher wage jobs but also their tenants," said Quinn.

In December, after developer Douglas Durst espoused a compromise version of the legislation that closely resembles the version announced today, the Living Wage Coalition NYC, backed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, took heated exception.

“A living wage bill that does not include tenants is a fraud,” said the Coalition’s spokesman Dan Morris in a statement. “What Durst proposes is completely unacceptable."

Today, the retail union's president, Stuart Appelbaum, called the compromise bill, "a groundbreaking requirement."

When asked about the dissonance between his coalition's former characterization of that sort of compromise and his current one, Appelbaum said, "I think this is a good bill ... We have not walked away from trying to impact the tenants, but we want to do it through the E.D.C. policy."

The city already has fairly extensive living-wage provisions in place, which apply to more than $1 billion in city contracts, according to the nonpartisan, publicly funded Independent Budget Office.  There’s the 1996 provision extending wage requirements to employees of food service, cleaning, temp and security firms under contract with the city. And there's a 2002 bill, signed by the mayor and co-sponsored by Quinn, that extended living-wage-like provisions to home health care and child-care workers under contract with the city.

But the speaker, who is planning to run for mayor in 2013 and has grown closer to the business community and Mayor Bloomberg in recent years, had declined to let the City Council vote on the original living-wage measure since it was introduced in May 2010. 

"I could not support the original living-wage bill as it was introduced," said Quinn today. "The requirement that tenants in subsidized projects pay more when the city has no financial connection with them is a provision that I feared and believed would have cost us future retail jobs."

A compromise bill has been in the works for a while now.

During a four-hour hearing on the topic in November, the speaker repeatedly pointed to concerns about language in the bill that would extend living wage not only to developers who have received city subsidies, but also to their tenants.

“Talk to me a little bit about how you make it work for the tenant, right, James, you said E.D.C. should work to get a better deal for the the tenant," she said, skeptically, to James Parrott of the liberal-leaning Fiscal Policy Institute, who testified at the hearing.

Like the mayor and the business establishment, the speaker has also consistently expressed concern about the impact a living-wage requirement would have on development in poor neighborhoods, the sort of neighborhoods already so undesirable to developers that they won’t do them without city subsidies.

To bolster that argument, opponents routinely point to Kingsbridge Armory as Exhibit A.

Two years ago, Related, the mega-developer behind the Time Warner Center, MiMA, and the Robert A.M. Stern-designed Superior Ink lxury condominiums, withdrew its plans to turn an abandoned armory in the Bronx into a mall, after the City Council and Bronx Borough President demanded that mall employees receive a living wage.

"If you look at Kingsbridge, we tried to do that in a particular way in the land-use action," said Quinn yesterday, following the mayor’s state of the city speech. "And it failed! It’s empty. We tried something. It didn’t work."

Today's compromise bill would not have required Related's tenants to pay living wage.

It's not at all clear that the mayor will sign on to Quinn's proposal, which would recommend that the E.D.C. give priority to developers whose tenants would pay living wage. The original version of the bill was believed to have the support of 29 of the Council's 51 members, and the new version will presumably have more. A two-thirds majority is required to override a mayoral veto.

In a statement issued following the announcement, Julie Wood, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said, "While we appreciate the positive changes Speaker Quinn has made to this legislation we continue to have serious concerns about the impact it could have on reducing the number of jobs in New York City. We need to fully review the bill when it is available to assess its impact on the City’s economy.”