Friday, October 16, 2009

Union Heads Join Armory Fight

As Crain's Insider is reporting (subscription), key labor officials have rallied to the support of the RWDSU and KARA in calling for a living wage agreement as a prerequisite for approving the redevelopment plans at the Kingsbridge Armory: "The heads of 32BJ SEIU, 1199 SEIU, the UFT, DC 37, the Hotel Trades Council and the Building & Construction Trades Council sent letters in the past week urging council members to demand that The Related Companies commit to permanent living-wage jobs at a redeveloped Kingsbridge Armory."

The support of labor could help opponents sway the council-and their opposition will be particularly significant since the final determination will come some time in December; at about the time when the council speakership will be decided. And, as Juan Gonzales points out this morning, Speaker Quinn is vigorously trying to maintain her position in the face of dissatisfaction with her reluctance to support the mayoral candidacy of Bill Thompson: "Christine Quinn's lack of political backbone in refusing to say if she'll back her party's mayoral nominee could spell the end of her reign as speaker when a new City Council convenes in January."

While we don't necessary agree with Gonzales' speculation here, we do think that the issue of her continuance as the leader of the council will play a role in the Armory fight. If opponents, now bolstered by a significant labor coalition, obtain critical mass, it will be more difficult for the speaker to push back against them-if that's what she is inclined to do (and we're not sure she is at all).

As Crain's observes: "The leaders have clout in the council, and their requests—which echo one by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.—could sway members' opinions on the project." But the key here for opponents is to really mobilize support across county lines-and use the Bronx opposition as a starting point for developing a wider consensus on the living wage issue. The greater the number of opponents that can be generated in the legislative body, the more likely that the speaker will seek to accommodate their wishes.

We did, however, get as kick out of the deputy mayor's position that is highlighted by the Insider: "Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber has said requiring retailers to pay living wages would result in no jobs, instead of good jobs, but unions want wage standards tied to projects like Kingsbridge that receive subsidies." Where does Lieber think that the shoppers will come from if this mall is eventually built? Has he seen the vacancies on the local shopping strips?

The problem with Lieber-and the entire economic development strategy of this administration, is that they propose these mammoth mall projects with no attempt to do an honest cost-benefit analysis-highlighting the job gains, but not the significant potential job losses. As MortonWilliams officials have directly told Liber-but perhaps his concentration was elsewhere-the mall across the street from their supermarket will lead to the closing of the store, and the other store that they own down at Fordham Road. This will mean the immediate loss of over 500 good union jobs.

And while we're talking about jobs, did you happen to see the NY Times report on this yesterday? "New York City’s unemployment rate rose to 10.3 percent in September as summer jobs programs ended and businesses that usually add staff in the fall held off on hiring, the state’s Department of Labor reported on Thursday. Over all, the employment picture was “markedly weaker” than it had been in August, when the city’s unemployment rate was 10.2 percent, said James Brown, an analyst for the Labor Department. (The department revised the August rate, which had been reported as 10.3 percent.)"

But the really significant news was from the other day in the Times, when the quality of the jobs gained and lost was analyzed: "Even in the downturn, the city has 130,000 more jobs than it had when Mr. Bloomberg became mayor, according to state labor statistics. Working-class New Yorkers who kept their jobs or stayed in the same field saw their pay rise faster than the rate of inflation. But the overall job market constantly shifts, particularly in a recession, when the economy sheds jobs and even whole industries. And in New York, middle- and working-class jobs that have disappeared — in fields like manufacturing, wholesale distribution and administrative services — have been replaced by jobs in sectors like retail, food service and home health care that generally pay less."

Not a great trade off. So we need to focus on job quality-exactly the issue that's being raised by the RW's living wage fight: “There’s been much more growth in lower-wage industries than in middle-wage industries,” said James Parrott, chief economist for the Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal research group. “That’s a challenge for people struggling to maintain a decent livelihood in New York City, given the cost of housing and everything else.”

So when we listen to the deputy mayor we need to try to avoid being jobbed-and if the price of not having a living wage in the, "Shops at the Armory," is no project at all than, so be it. It's simply not worth the millions of tax payer dollars to create these kind of low end jobs; especially when the city's economic gurus sit idly by, and blithely watch the investment capitalists close down Stella D'Oro.

So let's hold the Bloombergistas' hands to the fire on the Armory-no supermarket, and a living wage for Bronx workers who are struggling to survive in this luxury item city. Simple enough?