Thursday, December 10, 2009

Armored Resistance

With an expected vote postponed to allow continued negotiations, the fate of the Kingsbridge Armory remains up in the air today-and a final determination won't be reached until tomorrow at the earliest. As the NY Daily News reports, however, progress is being made on the key living wage issue: "The 15-year struggle to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory will continue one more day - at least. A key City Council subcommittee held off on a threat to vote down the project Wednesday, instead punting to a special session of the full Council - expected tomorrow, or perhaps Monday."

A complicated funding mechanism is being discussed that would be used to raise retail worker wages at the proposed mall: "A possible compromise emerged last week to ditch the living wage requirement in favor of a fund that would top off the paychecks of minimum wage workers at the mall. Under that proposal, revenue from renting 45,000 square feet of space, which had been designated for community use, to retailers instead - along with $400,000 a year from the city for 10 years - would go into the fund. Workers earning less than a living wage could then apply to receive a subsidy from the fund. The fund would have about $1.75 million a year, according to Rivera, and could raise the annual income of about 450 minimum-wage workers to living-wage standards. The city's contribution would come out of the $4 million that Related will pay the city for the landmarked Armory building."

The fact that the city is being forced to bend on an issue that it said was a deal breaker is a credit to the ability of the KARA/RWDSU coalition-and the council members who have been supporting its principles. With key members of the land use subcommittee ready to vote the plan down-and the speaker supporting them-the city and Related had two choices; concede on living wage, or accept defeat: "Though Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera (D-Bronx), who sits on the subcommittee, warned that opponents had the votes to kill the project, the subcommittee instead opted to put off a vote until tomorrow or later. "We're giving the administration as much time as possible to negotiate - the ball is in their court," said Rivera. "If they want to do the right thing, that's fine, but we're putting our foot down once and for all to say the city needs to have a living wage."

Aside from the living wage issue, there are labor neutrality and union access questions still unresolved-and the mechanism for excluding a supermarket has still not been negotiated; though the entire Bronx delegation and each of the members of the land use subcommittee have pledged to oppose this competing use in the development. It is expected that the negotiations today will include these and other issues raised in the community's overall CBA proposal.

NY1 also weighs in on the impasse: "It's a major issue because the Related Companies says if we mandate a wage scale, they're concerned that they won't get tenants and the whole project will fall apart,” said Bronx City Councilman G. Oliver Koppell. “At the same time, many people in the community rightfully say minimum wage jobs don't really support a family. So we're trying to arrive at some sort of compromise."

One Kimgsbridge Heights resident and KARA supporter highlights the issue: "People have to live," said Bronx resident Ivan Braun. "If we're not paying a living wage, it means that people are going to have to rely on other public subsidies, whether it's food stamps, health care, or housing vouchers."

If the council is able to negotiate a living wage deal, it will be truly precedent setting: "If we can get this agreement on living wage, this will a major policy change for the future," said Queens Councilman Tony Avella. "This is a significant fight that must be won. It's very expensive to live in the city, and minimum wage just doesn't do it anymore."

So, while the final vote has been put off, discussions appear to be making progress and something substantive is expected to emerge in the final deal that will be put to the full council-in all likelihood sometime tomorrow. Until the full details of the deal are known, however, it is premature to characterize the extent to which the Kingsbridge Armory will come to symbolize the "new paradigm," that Bx. BP Ruben Diaz has called for. Much will depend on the next twenty four hours of negotiations.