Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pointed Living Wage Fight

In the battle over whether the city should adopt a living wage for retail workers when a development project is heavily subsidized the issue of Willets Point has wormed its way into the discussion. City Hall News lays out the reasons:

"In June 2008, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, Stuart Appelbaum, stood on the steps of City Hall to praise the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Along with several other powerful union bosses, Appelbaum touted the EDC plan to jumpstart a long-stalled, $3 billion project at Willets Point in Queens, because he said it would lead to the creation of so-called “living wage” retail jobs for his workers – paying a minimum of $10 an hour.

“It won’t just mean thousands of jobs,” Appelbaum said. “It will mean thousands of construction and permanent jobs that pay prevailing wages and living wages.”

Juan Gonzales in the NY Daily News also weighs in on the correlation:

"And in 2008, when the mayor wanted the City Council to approve a proposed $3 billion Willets Point development project, his deputy mayor then, Robert Lieber, made such a deal with several labor unions.Under that deal, the city would require that all construction, maintenance and security jobs at Willets Point pay “prevailing” wages — far higher than $10 an hour.

As for retail jobs, Lieber promised to “view favorably” Willets Point proposals that “maximize” the number of “living wage jobs.” He even specified $10 an hour for a living wage. Because of those promises, the unions backed the plan and the City Council approved Willets Point."

Only one problem: EDC has-like it has done with so many other things -- reneged on the deal. In doing so EDC and the rest of the gang down at city hall demonstrate that they will say almost anything just to advance their crooked scheme to abscond with the Willets Point property. The key prevaricator in all of this is former Deputy Mayor Lieber -- a stone chump if there ever was one.

As City Hall reports:

"Appelbaum’s contentions that his members could expect living wage jobs at Willets Point were based upon by a letter penned in April 2008 by Robert Lieber, then the city’s deputy mayor for economic development, to the then-head of the city’s umbrella labor organization, Gary LaBarbera.

NYCEDC will view favorably development plans that maximize the number of jobs that meet the City’s living wage and health benefits standards,” Lieber wrote. “The proposal must explain how the proposed tenanting plan maximizes the number of jobs that meet these criteria.”

That was then, and this is now-just as WPU has already reported: "Yet this May – when the EDC put out a 125-page request for Willets Point proposals to developers – there was not a single mention of living wage jobs. It did state that developers had to hire construction contractors who would pay prevailing wage and that some building workers would get prevailing wage salaries—but retail workers were left out completely. Earlier this week, far from offering tacit support for a living wage, the EDC released a list of 36 projects around the city, including Willets Point, that it said could be jeopardized by the living wage bill."

In response EDC has started to spin like a top: "EDC spokesman David Lombino declined to directly address why living wage language from the 2008 letter never made it into the requests for proposal. “When seeking proposals for development, the city always considers the creation of well-paying jobs in addition to other factors like the feasibility of the project, proposed uses, job density, and cost to taxpayers,” Lombino said."

For us this is quite a familiar scenario. When WPU went to court to challenge the Willets Point development the very same Robert Lieber -- in a sworn deposition -- promised that the city wouldn't move to condemn any Willets Point property until the ramps off of the Van Wyck were approved. When WPU stymied that approval EDC went right ahead with condemnation anyway-and prattled on about changing conditions. This issue is now before Judge Joan Madden who ruled for the city precisely because of the Lieber deposition.

Here's the exit question for us: If the Willets Point development was approved because of the city's wage promises, does that mean that the entire development needs to be re-analyzed? And if the city can so blithely renege on this promise, what does that say about all of the others?