Monday, October 7, 2013

Living Wage and Dishonesty at Willets Point: A Challenge to de Blasio

We have underscored the hypocritical dishonesty of EDC about the question of a living wage at the Willets Point development before, but now that a vote is imminent it is appropriate to return to this field of schemes that the city is trying to foist on Queens. Here’s what we pointed out almost two years ago:
“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 WilletsPoint."
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."

And so it goes-just like with the purported revenues at Hudson Yards. The city never lives up to its promises, but now we have a new team coming into office and Bill de Blasio has made living wage and affordable housing his signature issues for dealing with income inequality. The WSJ reports today:
A proposal by Bill de Blasio to guarantee higher wages at city-subsidized projects could set up a battle with business and real-estate interests if he is elected. Real-estate and business leaders and labor experts alike said they were surprised to learn that Mr. de Blasio, the Democratic nominee and front-runner, would demand a so-called living wage of $11.75 an hour in cash and benefits to all workers on most city-subsidized projects—including, most controversially, to retail workers.” (emphasis added) 
Yes, the same workers that Stuart Appelbaum is supposed to represent have been thrown under the speeding bus. That brings us to de Blasio-and his promises on this issue:
A campaign spokesman said the plan is part of an economic-development vision "that is less about trickle-down, subsidizing a fast-food restaurant, providing subsidies to low-road, low-wage employers."
"We're not saying that's all the Bloomberg administration did, but to the extent that the mega-development projects had a high focus on retail, often low-wage retail, we'll look to invest development dollars and target development dollars into creating good jobs," said the spokesman, Jonathan Rosen, calling it a "very high priority."
Okay, then. This thrusts the Willets Point deal right into center stage, because as we have seen, the promises have not been kept-and the trickle down here is more a trickle up, up to the coffers of the Mets and Related. But we shouldn’t be surprised at the comments from Bloomberg lackey Seth Pinsky:
The Bloomberg model has proven to be a successful one. If someone is campaigning on the concept of trying something different, I think that person has a high bar they need to achieve in terms of explaining how that something different will work better," Mr. Pinsky said.
Mr. de Blasio's plan would address a critique of the Bloomberg administration: that too many of the jobs created have been low-paid.”
Success, we guess, is really in the eyes of the beholder-and as far as little Seth is concerned his world view, and current paycheck, comes right from Big Real Estate. Yet Pinsky is experiencing some cognitive dissonance-even while lacking any sense of irony:
"Mr. Pinsky said the next mayor will need to tackle inequality—a growing issue nationwide. Of Mr. de Blasio he said: "He's hit upon an issue that is absolutely critical to the future of the city. The income gap could be an existential issue to the future of the city."
The Bloomberg model has aggrandized the Relateds and Vornados of the world at the expense of neighborhoods and small business. In the process, the average New Yorker has been short changed and all of this has been promoted through the generous use of tax subsidies.

Willets Point could be de Blasio’s Rubicon-a river if crossed that will mean his rhetoric is not matched by his real commitment to equality and fairness. How do you come back from this unethical corporate welfare scheme? We’re all waiting to see what Bill will do.