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Living Wage Bill Debated in Committee

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Supporters of a local living wage bill line up to get into a city council committee hearing on the legislation. (Yasmeen Khan/WNYC)

Friends and foes of a local living wage bill packed a New York City Council committee hearing Tuesday to examine the merits of a revised version of the legislation.

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

Opponents of the legislation, including the Bloomberg administration, have said that mandating wages could hurt employment overall.

"This bill is not smart policy," said Tokumbo E. O. Shobowale, chief of staff to the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, in written testimony submitted to the council. "It will have precisely the opposite effect that it is intended to have...It will kill jobs at a time of unacceptably high unemployment. And it will stop developments that bring jobs and investment to communities that are already struggling."

To support its argument, the Bloomberg administration has pointed to a study that it commissioned by the New York City Economic Development Corporation that found living wage mandates reduce the number of jobs.

But proponents of the legislation have questioned the merits of the EDC study and put forth their own testimony in support of living wage mandates, including details from other cities that have implemented living wage laws, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon.

"We cannot continue to be married to one economic model that only allows for big corporations to take heavily from our tax wallets and continue to do well, while people in the Bronx and throughout the City of New York are still working and they're still poor," Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz, Jr. said.

Supporters of the bill in city council expressed a continued willingness to compromise and possibly amend the bill further, based on Tuesday's testimony.

The bill may not ever come to the floor for a vote. That decision is up to Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has not taken a public position on the bill.

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