Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Willets Point and the Living Wage Lie

Last year we wrote about how the promise of a living wage was the deal sealer in the passage of the land use application for the Willets Point development-and how EDC's completely eliminated the promise from its Phase I RFP. This omission caused us to ask the following question: "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?"

What prompts this follow up is the fact that the council is now moving forward with a living wage bill that expressly excludes the retail workers in all of the box stores that EDC has planned for the first phase of the development: "Against the backdrop of a proposed living wage bill that would exempt employees of private tenants in city-sponsored developments, a Council budget hearing yesterday turned into a referendum on the extent to which the nonprofit Economic Development Corporation opens opportunities for lower-income New Yorkers."

Where does leave Stuart Applebaum and the RWDSU? Back in December the RW's press spokesman said this about the bait and switch Phase I: "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."

Which leaves us with the impression that the advocates of a living wage like the retail workers unions were viewed by EDC as useful idiots-and now the agency feels it can with impunity stick a finger in the union's eye. And the city council is no better; and, despite what Morris opined in December, the council bill does no such thing.

The living wage provision was the linchpin of the council's approval of the Willets Point project and has abandoned it like so much of yesterday's garbage. But this isn't really surprising because when it comes to Willets Point EDC has reneged on almost everything that it promised the council-and the legislature's mute non-reaction to the bitch slapping has all the hallmarks of an abusive relationship.

If the council's so-called progressive caucus was so concerned about income inequality and all that jazz then it would be looking to join with WPU in demonstrating against this boondoggle at the Iron Triangle that will put hundreds, if not thousands of low income immigrants out of work-to be replaced by a high end mall that will further erode the neighborhood businesses of Jackson Heights, Corona and Flushing. (The catchment area of Claire Shulman's developer sponsored LDC-a group only formed as a beard for rich real estate interests)

That kind of courage, however, is a rare commodity. Posturing is so emotionally satisfying-and appearing good is obviously more important than actually being good. The group that should be manning the barricades with us, however, is the RWDSU. Their workers have gotten the shaft and at the end of the day it isn't impossible that Related will have the EDC bid at Willets Point and Wal-Mart's happy face will be seen mocking the inaction of all the progressive posturers.