The living wage controversy that has found its way into the fight over the Willets Point development continues to roil the local political scene. The Times Ledger focuses in on the Willets Point part of the affair:
"The EDC has also been criticized by Willets Point United, a property owners group, over the topic of a living wage requirement for retail employees who might one day work in the planned $3 billion development that will include both commercial and residential space. The group cited a recently leaked letter written in 2008 from the city to Gary LaBarbera, then head of the city Central Labor Council, that said the request for proposals would include language about a living wage.
The letter states: “As we discussed, we will include the following language in the Willets Point RFP .... NYCEDC will view favorably development plans that maximize the number of jobs that meet the city’s living wage and health benefit standards (‘living wage jobs’).”
This doesn't sit well with the RWDSU-the main proponent of the living wage law: "But the actual request for proposals did not include such language. And the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which touted the redevelopment project as a boon for local workers, is not happy. “They clearly broke the promise and reneged on what they said,” said Dan Morris, a spokesman for the union and for Living Wage NYC Coalition. Morris said a living wage bill, currently being debated in the City Council, would prevent this from happening in the future."
But what about the promise on Willets Point? Doesn't this invalidate the agreement? It certainly should caution the city council about any deals it makes with the mayor on land use applications-their word is simply not credible and stronger measures are needed to prevent the cynical about faces that we have seen on Willets Point.
The mayor, however, continues to stand strong against the living wage concept even though-as the IBO has pointed out-the city has hundreds of living wage provisions in its contracts. Capital explains:
"Still, there was a time when the Bloomberg administration didn't find it all that complicated. Today, Doug Turetsky, chief of staff for the nonpartisan, publicly funded Independent Budget Office, pointed out that the city already has living-wage provisions in place covering the employees of food-service and security firms under contract with the city. In 2002, Bloomberg himself signed into law a bill extending the wage requirements to cover home health care and child care workers under contract with the city. Bloomberg also supported instituting living wage-like provisions at Willets Point.
This new bill under consideration in the Council would apply to only six or seven projects a year, according to the I.B.O. “That’s a small number compared with the 437 contracts the city signed in fiscal year 2011 that are subject to the existing living-wage law,” writes Turetsky."
And where would a living wage argument be without the Kingsbridge Armory straw man? "To bolster his point, Bloomberg pointed to what has been Exhibit A for opponents of the wage mandate: Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, where developer Related Companies once proposed investing more than $300 million to build a mall. In 2009, the City Council, overriding a mayoral veto, defeated Related's plan, after it refused to comply with wage demands. “You saw up in the Bronx what happened when somebody tried to do that,” said Bloomberg. “Thousands of jobs that would have been created by now just aren’t there and it’s hard to see in the immediate future how we’re ever going to catch up and make up for that.”
CM Fidler picked up the same false argument:
"I think the problem that many of us have with the bill is that we all like it in principle,” he said. “The fact remains that that same principle guided our decision on the Kingsbridge Armory, and it’s still empty."
“Who am I to tell someone that no job is better than a job that doesn’t pay a quote-un-quote living wage,” he continued. “And, what do I say to the person, who says, ‘Wait a second. I would have had one of those jobs. I want one of those jobs.'”
Lost in all of this is the fact that the Armory project-subsidized by millions of public dollars-was a poor economic development investment because it threatened the existing local retail base. So Fidler should ask himself, Should public dollars be invested so that a local store owner would be forced out of business? The Bloomberg model is a zero sum game and Fidler-a strong defender of local stores-should be smart enough to realize that.
Which brings us back to Willets Point. It is unclear whether the current legislation would apply to Willets Point but shouldn't labor and the council be holding Bloomberg to his commitment? Was the Willets Point living wage promise simply a ruse to gain approval of a controversial project? If so, isn't it time for the council to exercise its oversight authority?