Thursday, November 19, 2009

Stop Jobbing NYC

Errol Louis, following up on his previous work on the proliferation of poverty wages in New York, weighs in today in the NY Daily News on the need to hold Related Company's hands to the fire on the living wage provision in the Kingsbridge Armory development: "The pitched battle over how, when and whether to develop the Kingsbridge armory in the Bronx brings New York City to a crossroads. Either we commit to fighting for jobs that pay a decent, living wage, or we watch an ever-larger section of our populace take a slow tumble into a life of working full-time for poverty pay."

And Louis ridicules the idea-put forward by the mayor-that somehow this demand is an infringement on "private" development on the city: "Related - backed by high-ranking city officials up to and including Mayor Bloomberg - says asking possible tenants to pay employees at least $400 a week for full-time work is a deal-breaker because companies won't agree to rent space if they have to pay $10 an hour. "The city is not in the business of guaranteeing people's wages, and in private development, we shouldn't be," said Bloomberg. But this deal stopped being "private development" when the city committed $42 million in repairs and incentives. And it does guarantee people's wages - in the worst possible way."

But the city's own refusal to budge on this issue as far as the Armory is concerned lacks any semblance of consistency. Last year when it looked as if the Willets Point redevelopment project would go by the wayside, the city-and this includes Mike Bloomberg, who personally lobbied for the plan-struck a very broad living wage deal with local unions: "Some of New York's biggest union leaders lined up on the steps of City Hall Thursday to cheer Mayor Bloomberg's new megadevelopment plan - the $3 billion Willets Point project in Queens. One after another, they gave glowing praise to one more giveaway to real estate developers - one that had been opposed by a majority of the City Council. The labor leaders touted the "historic" concessions on future jobs at Willets Point they claim to have secured from City Hall in return for backing the project."

And the deal on the Point was a lot more controversial than the one being promoted by KARA at the Armory-involving as it did the proposed eviction of 225 local businesses and 2500 workers. So desperate was the city to compromise-and avoid embarrassing Mike Bloomberg-that it had no problem caving on the wage agreement at the Iron Triangle. That was then.

Now at the Armory we have another example of the city giving away millions-tens of millions-to a favored developer, while offering precious little to the future employees at the site. As Louis says, enough of this shafting:

"Giving tens of millions in assistance to Related without demanding a reasonable base wage would guarantee that many of the resulting jobs would pay less than many New Yorkers need to afford living in this city. Some jobs would be at the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. That's $290 a week for full-time work. Before taxes. Enough. Time and again, residents around the city are supposed to look the other way while bureaucrats and businessmen swap public money for crummy jobs that leave full-time workers using food stamps, soup kitchens and other welfare to survive. The lawyers and paper-pushers who cut these deals hold grip-and-grin press conferences, congratulating one another on how "creative" they had to be to strike the final bargain. As if underpaying security guards and stockroom clerks were akin to composing a symphony on a bar napkin."

And Louis agrees with Bronx BP Ruben Diaz that this should be the beginning of the development of a new paradigm for development in NYC: "New Yorkers have wised up to this immoral foolishness. The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, a coalition of community groups and unions, is calling Related's bluff, indicating they would rather have no deal than a guarantee of misery."The Bronx has the highest poverty rate of any urban county in the United States," Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., said in testimony to the Council this week. "It is time to demand that developers do better."Damn straight. Let the "creative" geniuses figure out a new business model - one that doesn't depend on making sure working poor households stay poor."

In all of the city-and Related's-hand wringing you'd have thought that this was something so radical that it had never been tried any where else-even aside from the city's own Willets Point bow to living wage. But, as Drum Major Institute tells us in its blog post:

"Related Companies was selected by the city to redevelop the historic Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx into a retail mall. To assist with the redevelopment, Related will receive city tax subsidies equal to $17.8 million, plus $50 million in tax credits from the state and federal government. But as part of the deal, local residents demand that future retail tenants at the mall pay their employees a living wage. Related Companies insists that if it forces future retail tenants to pay a living wage, the mall will ultimately fail. But this statement must be confusing to those that live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. They have lots of big-box retailers like Target, Home Depot, Bed Bath and Beyond, The Gap, and Banana Republic. But they also have a living wage law that covers every single employee in the city: $9.85 an hour. The residents of San Francisco must be equally confused. The city has many national retailers and also has a city-wide minimum wage of $9.79 an hour. Plus, San Francisco workers get paid sick time and mandated employer contributions to health care. And somehow Barnes and Noble can still manage to get by."

So enough of this belly aching from the city and its development handmaiden-it's time to put up or shut up. What was good for Willets Point, San Fransisco and Santa Fe should be good enough for the people of the Bronx as well. We'll give Errol the last word here: "Let all the hand-wringing over the possibility of businesses leaving New York be matched by more concern about 150,000 people who move out of the city each year. Let us talk about why so many of the record 39,000 people living in city homeless shelters actually hold full-time jobs. Not only should Bloomberg and the Council support the community alliance, they should put living wage requirements in all city projects that receive significant public benefits, the way cities like San Francisco and Santa Fe, N.M., have already done. That would be real creativity of the kind our city needs."