Saturday, May 14, 2011

Living Wages of Sin at Willets Point

The battle over a living wage has heated up with all of its supporters trying to pressure Speaker Quinn to let the bill come to an up or down vote at the Council. As the advocates of the legislation point out, "Yet because there is virtually never a contested vote in the overwhelmingly Democratic chamber, the bill's future may hinge not so much on a counting game but rather on whether Speaker Christine Quinn makes it a priority in negotiations with the mayor. The number of backers is not inconsequential, but it will take more than widespread support to give the bill traction."

That being said, it is important to point out that Quinn and the Mayor, or is it the mayor and Quinn, have already supported a living wage when it suits them-on Willets Point, for example: "More recently, the city has entered into agreements linking higher minimum wages to subsidized projects in Greenpoint/Williamsburg and Coney Island in Brooklyn and Willets Point in Queens.

“We're already using wage standards for large-scale projects, and there's no indication they're impeding development,” says Paul Sonn, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project, citing, for example, the 29 responses the city has received to its request for proposals to redevelop Willets Point."

So, when it comes to the mayor's legacy project, Bloomberg's allegiance to principle is ruled by expedience-as even a Willlets Point supporter understands. Jack Friedman, the head of the Queens Chamber of Commerce feels that a living wage will kill any chance to develop the Iron Triangle, a development that he supports:

"Jack Friedman, executive VP of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, tells that the measure would all but kill development, which has already been hit hard in the region. “I can’t imagine Willets Point going forward if the living wage mandate goes forward,” Friedman says. “Because what retailer in their right mind is going to agree to sign leases in a place where they’re going to have to pay their employees 50% more than the people down the block?”
Well Jack. There are a lot more uncertainties surrounding Willets Point than the eventual wages that may be paid to retail workers at the projected mall at the site. Maybe he should be more concerned with the billions of dollars of tax payer money that will go to waste.

In our view, Willets Point-with or without a living wage-is still a boondoggle. But we get a grim kick out of people like Friedman who allege to represent Queens businesses but have no problem with the city condemning the properties of real life local firms-and use billions of tax dollars to do so.

The facts here are that if the city throws enough tax dollars into the Willets Point deal there will be enough gravy to allow for some of that money to do to pay low wage retail workers. But the idea of such a wasteful and environmentally unsustainable effort is an example of crackpot planning-and it should have been tabled long ago.

It was, however, deals like living wage that were crafted in 2008 that allowed the project to be approved by labor-just ask Stu Appelbaum of the RWDSU who threw his support to the development when a living wage was approved. For Friedman to no come out opposed to living wage because it might kill Willets Point is truly an ungrateful act.

But then the entire development reeks of ingratitude to those businesses who have invested so much blood, sweat and tears to the Iron Triangle for decades.