The City Planning Commission is doing what it has always done for the past eight years-rubber stamping the mayor's wishes-and today it will ignore the entreaties of supermarket owners and elected officials and approve, without significant reservation, the zoning application for the Kingsbridge Armory. In the process, the Bloomberg personal promise to store owners, made in a meeting at Cafe Rubio in Corona, that there will be no supermarket in the Armory, will be left to the city council to fulfill.
But the council will have a more serious issue to tackle-one that goes beyond whether a supermarket will be sited in the new development. And this issue revolves around the question of whether the stores that are slated to go into the new development will be required to pay their employees a living wage. If left unresolved, a growing coalition of opponents of the development could well defeat the entire plan.
As Crain's highlights: "The heads of six of the city's most powerful unions sent letters in the past week to City Council members urging them to demand that the Related Cos. commit to permanent “living-wage” retail jobs for its redevelopment of the empty Kingsbridge Armory site. Leaders of two major locals of the Service Employees International Union, the United Federation of Teachers, the Hotel Trades Council, the Building & Construction Trades Council and the municipal workers union want the 1,200 permanent jobs predicted to arise from the redevelopment of the 92-year old West Bronx landmark to pay at least $10 an hour and come with health and retirement benefits. “It is time for New York City to move beyond a failed economic development model that promotes low-wage work,” wrote five of the leaders in one letter. In a separate letter, Gary LaBarbera, president of the building trades council, made a similar appeal."
Of course, the political thrust here is being spearheaded by Bronx BP Ruben Diaz, and RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum: "The union leaders' calls follow ones made by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum and the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance calling for a wide-ranging community benefits agreement that includes the higher wages, local hiring, the exclusion of a supermarket and a promise to not hinder labor organizing, among other demands."
Crain's foreboding on this issue is merited: "The unions' missives landed at City Hall the week before the city's Planning Commission is expected to approve the project at a meeting Monday. The proposal will then move on to the council, where it faces an uncertain future. The local councilwoman, Maria Baez, says she supports the call for “good jobs,” but she's a lame duck, having been narrowly defeated by the Rev. Fernando Cabrera in September's primary. So, it's not clear if she'll hold any sway over her colleagues in a process where the local representative's position is typically echoed by the rest of the Council. It's possible, however, that the Council could line up behind organized labor, several other members of the Bronx delegation and Mr. Diaz, who have supported the move for living wages."
Which leaves the council leadership in a bind, because it has rarely vetoed a Bloomberg zoning initiative-although Crain's misstates the level of the council's obsequiousness: "Thus far, none of the Bloomberg administration's 99 rezonings have failed in the Council, but with the community alliance digging in and the administration and Related seemingly unwilling to budge, Mr. Bloomberg's unblemished redevelopment record could soon be put to the test."
The reality is that Related has already suffered a defeat at the council-in 2005 its plans to build a BJs at Brush Avenue in the Bronx was defeated in a land use sub committee; and the application was subsequently withdrawn when defeat was inevitable. It looks as if history may be repeating itself in the Bronx.
At 2:00 PM today all of the Armory stakeholders will gather at City Hall to advocate for the community benefits agreement-no supermarket and a living wage-or no to the entire project. It will be a very interesting battle, one whose resolution is far from clear.
Date: October 15, 2009
Contacts: Ava Farkas - 646-533-5454 Michael Yellin -- 917-434-6130
Living Wage Fight At Kingsbridge Armory Moves to City Council for Final Decision Coalition to Demand Council Reject Related’s Development Plans If They Do Not Include Enforceable Community Benefits Agreement
What: The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA) will demand the City Council reject the Related Company’s application for the rezoning and sale of the Kingsbridge Armory until the developer signs a binding Community Benefits Agreement for High Road Development that includes: permanent living wage jobs, first source local hiring, protection of the right of retail workers to join a union without fear or intimidation, community and recreation space, and the exclusion of a supermarket and other stores that would be detrimental to local businesses.
Who: Ruben Diaz, Bronx Borough President; Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, KARA leader and Executive Board member, Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition; Father Joseph Girone, St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church; Jeff Eichler, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; Nelson Eusebio, National Supermarket Association; other members of the KARA coalition representing the Northwest Bronx community, clergy, small business and labor.
When: Monday, October 19, 2:00 pm, following the City Planning Commission vote
Where: New York City Hall steps