Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Armory Press Wrap, Living Wage-Lives!

Here's some more coverage that we missed in our all Armory, all the time commentary, that's about to get a deserved rest. Eliot Brown at the Observer weighs in on the mayor's hurt feelings: "On this subject, the mayor made clear his feelings. "It's a great tragedy," he said, listing benefits the $320 million project would have bestowed on the community, regardless of the minimum wages its retailers paid. "Now they have nothing, and we have a building that's been vacant for 30 years, it's costing the taxpayers something like half a million a year to maintain, and we're going to have to continue to pay that without anything to the community."

Addition by subtraction it seems to us-but not to the minority contractor who opines with ghostly eloquence this morning in the NY Daily News (no link) about his own lost opportunities; while talking with borrowed erudition about "lost shoppers to Yonkers." And he should take heart, because Speaker Quinn talks about the aberration that is Kingsbridge in the Observer: "We're not agreeing on Kingsbridge, the only economic development project in the four years of the mayor and I working together where we haven't been able to come to an agreement," she said. "We will never let one disagreement force us into a place where we can't find other points of commonality."

And check out City Limits for another shout out to KARA-and the mag provides this link to local reactions: "It is Bronx residents who will cope with the consequences of Monday’s vote, for better or worse. Joel Allen, a 44-year old Sedgwick Avenue super, applauded the vote.“What the City Council did makes sense,” Allen said. “Times are hard. Low wage jobs don’t benefit anyone. One of my tenants was just evicted. If you make enough for bus fare but can’t pay the rent, what’s the point of going to work?”

And the Bronx Times reporter points out that the supermarket issue was also salient: "Not so, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and Morton Williams Supermarkets, a chain with a store kitty-corner to the armory, argued prior to the City Council vote. They and KARA persuaded Diaz Jr. to demand that Related exclude a new supermarket from the armory.A new supermarket would have knocked scores of Morton Williams and bodega employees out of work, they warned."

So Speaker Quinn may be speaking with a bit of false bravado, as the battle for living wage continues to provide a glimpse into the ghost of Christmas future. As the Village Voice points out, the battle has shifted: "As shoppers scurried to snatch up last minute gifts inside the Queens Center Mall, local elected officials and community organizations painted the shopping destination's landlord,Macerich, as the latest Grinch in the ongoing fight for living wages -- just days after the city council rejected a Kingsbridge Armory plan that had no living wage requirement. Most of the 3,100 retail workers in the sprawling urban mall earn $7.25 an hour."

That must be the, "great tragedy," that Mayor Mike was referring to in his eulogy for the Armory. So the living wage coalition is gearing up to despoil the mayor's new term: "This is the second front of the battle for living wage jobs and community benefits," said Jeff Eichler, a coordinator with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which helped staunch the Bronx development that would have created over 1,200 retail jobs and joined in the new Queens fight."

And the RWDSU has done a report that ought to make the Bloomberg economic team blush with shame: "According to the report, released by the RWDSU and Queens community group Make the Road, the massive mall has received $48 million in tax breaks over the past five years with another $50 million more to come. However, most of the 3,100 jobs at the mall pay at or slightly more than the $7.25 federal minimum wage and do not include health benefits. As a result, the Mall has helped create an entire community that is struggling under the weight of poverty-wage jobs, the report concludes."

And the coalition appears ready to really grow citywide in the New Year: "Standing on a snowy corner of Queens Boulevard, Santa symbolically held gift-wrapped boxes marked "living wages." A menacing green Dr. Seuss character represented the mall owner. Activists from Make the Road New York, a citywide organization focusing on economic justice, demanded that the landlord place a living wage clause in its leases -- which would require stores to pay $10/hour with benefits, or $11.50 without."

And so it grows: "The group and the officials plan to continue their campaign against Macerich with street demonstrations and letters. "Just like the story of Scrooge, where the ghost visited him on many occasions," said Councilman-elect Daniel Dromm, "we're going to come back, and we're going to visit this mall on many occasions until we get what the community needs."

The next step is the legislative push for living wage and labor peace-but the council needs to also focus more on the misused public monies for retail, and how these economic "benefits" are puny for the workers but robust for the real estate development community. In the process, local neighborhood businesses get the privilege of trying to compete with other retailers who have Mike Bloomberg as their less than silent partner.

It should be a provactive New Year.