Supporters Rally for Living Wage as City Council Revisits Bill

As the city council revives the debate over a living wage bill on Tuesday, more than a thousand people packed Riverside Church Monday night to show their support for the measure.

"Your voices are being heard, and they have to be heard by our leadership," Councilman G. Oliver Koppell, the primary sponsor of the bill, told the crowd. But he added Council Speaker Christine Quinn must decide whether or not to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

The rally started with music, including young children playing African drums and freedom songs by a choir, and ended with a keynote speech from Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP.

It also included a statement from Archbishop Timothy Dolan, read by Monsignor Kevin Sullivan. "I leave positions on this specific legislation to others. [But] I do know that the church supports fair wages with decent benefits & jobs in sufficient numbers, so that all might find work."

The proposed measure, called the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, would require that businesses in development projects subsidized by the city pay workers $10 an hour with benefits. The current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

The Committee on Contracts held a hearing on the bill in May where concerns were expressed over the bill. Now the committee is  introducing a version that's more limited in scope:

  • The bill would not apply to companies receiving less than a million dollars in city subsidies. Originally, the bill would have applied to companies receiving more than $100,000 in city subsidies.
  • Manufacturing companies would be exempt from the measure.
  • Businesses making less than $5 million dollars in annual revenue would be exempt from the measure.
  • The amended bill would require businesses pay workers the higher wage for 10 years or the life of the subsidy — down from 30 years in the original bill.

In total, there were nine amendments included in the bill being introduced this week.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has come out against the bill, saying higher wages could mean fewer jobs. But the majority of city council members support the measure.

Not all the unions are in favor of the bill either. Jack Kittle, political director of District Council #9 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, thinks it is counter-productive to try and legislate private sector wages. He thinks it just creates another barrier to attracting businesses and jobs to the city.

"I think the middle ground is you encourage business in New York, and then you go talk to workers, and you talk to employers, and you organize them and you negotiate wages that find in the market," Kittle said.

Tuesday's hearing does not mean the bill will be brought to the floor for a vote. Quinn hasn't indicated whether that will happen, nor has she taken a position on the bill.

With reporting from Annmarie Fertoli.