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Quinn Announces Deal on Living Wage Bill

By Jill Colvin | January 13, 2012 12:10pm | Updated on January 13, 2012 5:59pm
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. announced a deal on the living wage bill Thursday.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. announced a deal on the living wage bill Thursday.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

CITY HALL — After months of heated debate and demonstrations, City Council Speaker Christine announced a deal Friday afternoon on controversial legislation that would force developers who receive big city subsidies to pay their workers more than the minimum wage but would exempt their tenants from doing the same.

At a hastily-called press conference at City Hall, Quinn, who was joined by fellow council members and the head of the retail workers' union, announced plans to introduce a new “living wage” bill that will force developers receiving more than a $1 million in city subsidies to pay their workers at least $10 an hour, plus benefits, or $11.50 without — significantly more than the $7.25 minimum wage.

City Council Speaker Christin Quinn announced a living wage deal Friday afternoon.
City Council Speaker Christin Quinn announced a living wage deal Friday afternoon.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

The requirement would apply both to workers directly employed by the companies receiving the benefits, as well as contractors and subcontractors, such as cafeteria operators.

"I believe it is fair and appropriate for government to place requirements on a business that has voluntarily entered into an economic development agreement with the city," explained Quinn, who had been silent on the bill during months of heated debate.

But missing from the legislation was a controversial provision union leaders had wanted — making tenants of developers pay higher-wages, too. That requirement would have forced a restaurant like McDonald's to pay its workers more if they rented space in a development that had received city help — a crucial provision, union leaders had said.

Quinn said she could not support that provision because it wasn't fair to burden tenants when they didn't receive perks.

"The requirement that tenants in subsidized projects pay more when the city has no financial connection with them is a provision I believe would have cost us future retails jobs," she said. "Placing this requirement on businesses that don't receive a direct benefit is simply unfair."

While supporters said the bill had been dramatically watered down, Quinn said she expected it would still cover roughly 85 percent of nearly 700 workers a year whose wages would have been boosted by the original bill.

As part of the deal, Quinn also announced that she and the council would urge the city's Economic Development Corporation to begin a "pilot program" that would make certain development projects open only to developers who agreed that their tenants would also pay their workers the higher wage.

She said the council would allocate up to $10 million from next year's capital budget to help the EDC with the efforts, which appeared to be enough honey to sweeten the deal for advocates, who had fought vigorously for the tenant inclusion.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, stood squarely beside Quinn, as he hailed the deal as "fair and reasonable." He said it would be "the strongest living wage bill in the United States."

He added: "We have not walked away from trying to impact the tenants. But we want to do it through the EDC."

"Living wages is critical for people to be able to maintain communities," Dr. Delois Blakely said at a hearing on the bill.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who had helped to kill a deal to develop the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx because the developer refused to pay a living wage, also praised the deal.

"This is a step in the right direction," he said, a day after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the city will reopen the door to development at the armory, with Diaz's blessing.

While advocates have long maintained it isn't right for the city to subsidize poverty-level wages, the Bloomberg administration had threatened efforts to force higher wages would cost the city billions of dollars in investment and tens of thousands of jobs.

Julie Wood, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said the mayor was still weighing the new deal.

“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," she said in a statement.

"We need to fully review the bill when it is available to assess its impact on the City’s economy," she said.

Quinn said she intends to introduce the bill next month.