Council Passes Building Workers Wage Bill

The City Council approved a bill that would guarantee higher wages for some workers at buildings that receive city subsidies of more than $1 million on Wednesday. Most would see their wages top $20 an hour.

The measure, which passed 46 to 4, guarantees that cleaners, porters and other building workers at some developments that benefit from city funds would be paid the prevailing wage established for their job classification by the city comptroller.

The bill would apply to buildings that receive more than $1 million in city funds and to large buildings where the city leases more than half the space. There would be exceptions protecting small businesses, nonprofits and owners of affordable housing. Only future deals would be covered by the new rules, which would guarantee experienced cleaners and porters at the largest office buildings at least $22.65 an hour.

Speaker Christine Quinn said that the majority of workers in office buildings in which the city leases space already earn competitive wages, she said the law will help the more than hundred or so who don’t.

“We want to make sure that in those buildings where city taxpayers are basically giving subsidies that those workers get paid a prevailing wage.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has promised to veto the measure, calling it "terrible legislation." But City Council spokeswoman Zoe Tobin said the bill has enough support to override a veto.

Building service workers impacted by the legislation would see a raise of 35 to 45 percent, said Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who sponsored the measure.

"Our economic development policies must be rooted in a desire to not only benefit developers and business owners, but to create as many good-quality, family-sustaining jobs as possible," she said.

Ninety percent of the workers at the city's commercial office buildings already receive the prevailing wage, said Maia Davis, a spokeswoman for 32BJ, the union that represents building workers.

Councilman James Oddo, who voted against the bill, said he was concerned with what he said was a lack of transparency in the determination of the prevailing wage minimums, as well as the possibility the measure would lead to further business regulation.

The bill is narrowly focused, he said, but added he disagrees "with the concept of government mandating salaries in the private sector."

Earlier versions applied to a larger number of buildings and prompted objections from the real estate industry.

Spinola said the current measure addresses the major concerns of the industry and reduces the chances of discouraging investment and job creation. Still, he warned, legislation that imposes wage mandates increases employer costs and carries the risk of fewer jobs and tax revenue.

The council estimates that legislation would immediately affect 59 leases on 52 buildings.

The legislation was brought to a vote by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who in January announced a similar agreement ensuring that companies receiving city subsidies would pay their workers at least $10 an hour. Quinn, a frequent Bloomberg ally who is believed to be positioning herself for a mayoral run in 2013, opposed the mayor on both issues.

Sharyn Jackson contributed to this report.