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Quinn Says She Couldn’t Reach Living Wage Compromise

Thursday, April 12, 2012

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn conceded Thursday that she could not fashion language for a bill to raise the wages of workers on city-subsidized projects that would satisfy both a prominent business group and labor leaders.

Quinn lost the support of the Partnership for New York City on Wednesday over a provision known as the “executive waiver,” which would give the mayor the power – in some circumstances – to permit lower wages on city-supported projects.

"At the end of the process, we just weren't able to come to an agreement on the scope, breadth and depth of a waiver in a way that was able to meet everybody's needs," Quinn told reporters, after laying a wreath in Lower Manhattan to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

Our understanding of the revised language of the Living Wage bill would tie the city’s hands in negotiating the best possible terms for city-assisted projects,” the Partnership said in a statement. “The original ‘Living Wage’ concept that Speaker Quinn proposed, and the Partnership supported, provided the city with the flexibility to exempt important projects from the Living Wage law if the project benefits justified such exemption."

Many cities that have adopted so-called living wage laws have also included an executive waiver. Quinn said she is studying those examples.

“Most are narrow, very tailored, and most require dual executive and legislative approval,” Quinn said.  “They are not of the nature that, if this makes the mayor anxious, if the mayor is worried, if the developer or corporate leader says this won’t work…they’re very high bars of proof.”

Quinn has not released the text of her bill.

In January, when Quinn announced the framework for an agreement on a living wage law, she had the support both of labor leaders and business groups, including the Partnership and the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. The executive waiver was not mentioned that day.

The New York Times first reported Quinn had lost the support of the Partnership on Wednesday. Calls to the group were not immediately returned Thursday.

Quinn did little to tamp down conjecture about the precise terms of the bill, which requires a minimum wage of $10 an hour, with benefits, but includes many carve-outs and exemptions.

One key question is whether the law will cover the Related Companies' massive commercial and residential development on the site of the Hudson Yards on Manhattan's West Side.

The site lies within Quinn's district.

Quinn would not say whether her bill will require that workers at Hudson Yards be paid higher than minimum wage.

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