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Mayor Bloomberg Vetoes Legislation Mandating Higher Wages

By Jill Colvin | April 25, 2012 1:51pm
The event was the first in recent history that a mayor has held a press conference to veto a bill.
The event was the first in recent history that a mayor has held a press conference to veto a bill.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

CITY HALL — Mayor Michael Bloomberg struck down legislation that would mandate higher wages for certain buildings workers Wednesday, warning that it and a similar measure would destroy jobs.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the front-runner to succeed Bloomberg and a usual ally, has recently brokered deals on two pieces of union-backed legislation: a prevailing wage bill that would apply to certain building workers in properties where the city leases a large percentage of space, and a living wage bill, which would force developers who receive big subsidies to pay their workers higher than minimum wage.

Both pieces of legislation are expected to cover no more than several hundred workers each.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed a bill that would mandate higher-than-minimum wages for some buildings workers.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed a bill that would mandate higher-than-minimum wages for some buildings workers.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

But in passionate remarks delivered at City Hall, Bloomberg argued that both measures would be job killers that threaten to undermine progress the city had made recovering from the recession.  

“The so-called living and prevailing wage bills are a throwback to the era when government viewed the private sector as a cash cow to be milked, rather than a garden to be cultivated,” said Bloomberg, in what aides said was his first public veto address.

“We cannot afford to go back to those days. We cannot take our economy for granted. And I will not sign legislation — no matter how well-intended — that that hurts job creation and taxpayers."

Quinn, who is expected to pass the living wage measure later this month, said she was "disappointed" by the mayor's decision and was "looking forward" to overriding both.

“Too many hard working families today feel the effects of a painful financial squeeze," she said in a lengthy statement that argued that the city must do more to protect the middle class.

"The combination of a high cost of living, shortage of good jobs, lack of affordable housing and poor performing schools makes it hard for middle class families—and their children—to get ahead, or even hold their own," she said.

"It isn’t enough to just create jobs. We need to make sure that whenever possible, those jobs pay enough to support a family and join the middle class," she said.

Bloomberg said that, if the council overturns his vetoes, he will sue.

“I urge the Council Members to vote against the living wage bill, and to vote against overriding this veto on the prevailing wage bill. Both bills are based on legally dubious theories, and if they become law, we will challenge them in court," he said.

The prevailing wage bill passed by the Council last month mandates higher-than-minimum wage pay for security guards and custodians who work in 41 large buildings where the city leases the majority of space.

Council staffers estimated the increase would boost non-unionized workers' pay by about 35 to 45 percent — with cleaners’ pay jumping from about $19 an hour to $24.75, and security guards’ wages increasing from $10 an hour to $12.80.

The rule would also apply to a handful of economic development projects receiving more than $1 million in city subsidies.

The living wage bill would 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.

But the requirement would only apply to workers directly employed by the companies receiving the benefits— not their tenants, meaning a restaurant like McDonald's renting in a subsidized could continue to pay its workers minimum wage.

Mike Fishman, president of 32BJ, also criticized the mayor.

"This bill will ensure that building owners benefiting from public subsidies do not undercut private enterprise by paying wages below the predominant private-sector rate. We agree with the mayor about the need to protect taxpayers. But workers are taxpayers. This veto hurts city taxpayers, the economy and working families," he said.