Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Living Wage, Dying Project?

As we head into today's City Council land use meetings on the fate of the Kingsbridge Armory, it is still unclear whether the project will have enough support to pass this last hurdle in the city's land use review process. And the issue of living wage is still the sticking point, as WNYC's Matt Schuerman points out: "An effort to boost the wages of some low income workers is set to face a key vote in the City Council today. Proponents want workers at a large city-backed development project in the Bronx to get more than minimum wage. But the developer of the Kingsbridge Armory says that will kill the project."

And Schuerman goes on to detail the plight of low wage workers in the city: "In New York City, almost a quarter of rank-and-file retail workers earn less than $8 an hour, according to a report from the liberal Fiscal Policy Institute. One of them is Alex Montas, a 21-year old from the Bronx. "At first it was okay but then like as the months pass, the time passes, you realize you are working too hard and not getting enough money," Montas says. Montas is a maintenance worker at a Daffy’s in Midtown. He earns $7.45 cents an hour. That comes out to about $15,000 for a full year’s work, before taxes, and no health insurance."

These poverty wage jobs also are a burden to city tax payers-which is why the living wage effort is national in scope: "More than 140 cities have adopted living wage ordinances. But most of them, including that original one in Baltimore as well as one New York City enacted, apply only to city contractors. They do nothing for retail workers. Which is why people like Ruben Diaz Jr., Bronx Borough President, have targeted the armory project. "We are sick and tired of leading the nation as the number one county in poverty rates," Diaz says."

This is a fight for economic justice against a real estate company that has gotten fat off of public largess-including its no-bid steal of the Bronx Terminal Market. If the developers can't figure out how to pay a living wage, than the city needs to mandate it for all large tax subsidized retail projects, legislation that will be introduced in the next council after the new year.

In regards to this upcoming fight, the Armory battle may be seen as the equivalent of the Battle of Bunker Hill-the first skirmish in a revolution for economic justice for retail workers. And the revolutionary army couldn't have a better genera than the RW's Stuart Appelbaum.