Friday, January 14, 2011

Living Wage: Ensnared in the Bermuda Triangle

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to any living wage bill in NYC is the opposition of the Mayor-someone who lives large and for whom the concept of a living wage is beneath his contempt. The RWDSU's Stuart Appelbaum. points this out to Daily Politics in the run up to last night's rally on behalf of the measure: "I spoke to RWDSU leader Stu Appelbaum ahead of tonight's scheduled "living wage" rally (slated for 6:30 p.m. at the Convent Baptist Church in Harlem) and the union chief had some rather harsh words for Mayor Bloomberg. "Perhaps if Mayor Bloomberg spent less weekends in Bermuda and more in the neighborhoods, he would understand the hardship New Yorkers are experiencing just trying to live in the city," Appelbaum told me, taking a poke at Hizzoner for being in an undisclosed location during Christmas Weekend Blizzard prep."

Bloomberg is suffering now from the wages of sin-and his elitist attitudes and dismissive behavior to his critics of his disappearing act are going to come back to haunt him: "There's a moral imperative that we do something in New York City to alleviate the hardship and suffering people are experiencing, and I think it just makes sense that if we're providing public subsidies to private developers, then the public should be getting something in return," he said."

Bloomberg, for his part, treats the legislation as if it were the equivalent of the onset of a Soviet Five year Plan-a speedy train on the road to economic serfdom: "The living wage bill -- which has increasing support in the City Council but has yet to come to a hearing -- would provide workers on city-subsidized development projects with a baseline of $10 an hour with benefits or $11.50 an hour without benefits. Bloomberg has called it "a nice idea" that simply won't work."

What the initiative really does do, however, is to mitigate the wrongheadedness of the mayor's economic development policies-tax subsidies to developers bringing in the chain stores that are knifing the city's neighborhood retailers in the back. Or, to phrase it somewhat differently, not nice ideas that benefit mostly the mayor's billionaire cohort at the expense of workers and small businesses. In the process, the immigrant businesses that form the core of the city's small business economy are shown the back of the mayor's hand.

In our view, and we have expressed in on numerous occasions, the mayor is squandering our tax dollars for projects that add little to the city's economic well being-and in many ways diminishes it. But he compounds this policy error by his haughty manner-and Appelbaum captures this: "Appelbaum, unsurprisingly, says Bloomberg's out of touch when it comes to the struggles of the city's working poor -- but has no problem dictating to citizens "how much salt they're allowed to have in their food."

The Politicker picks up on this theme: "And advocates say that they think that Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent stumbles and attendant dip in popularity have created an opening to push through a bill. "I think we can capitalize on Bloomberg's vulnerabilities," said one advocate. "After the snow debacle and everything else the mayor is seen as out of touch with the rest of the city."

Bloomberg's loss of papal infallibility is his opponents' gain-and more support appears to be gathering at the city council: "Support for the measure does appear to be growing beyond the Progressive Caucus, the group of Working Families Party-backed council members who have pushed for more liberal economic policies. Dan Garodnick, considered something of a moderate on the Council, signaled to supporters of the measure that he supports it."

We anticipate that Garodnick's support is just the beginning-and it will rise in inverse proportion to the mayor's diminished status, and glaring absence of any capacity for empathy-something that the snowfu galvanized. Put simply, the mayor has fronted for the city's economic royalists for the better part of nine years. He has touted-against the travails of the national recession-the city's "better" economic picture; a picture that obscures the dismal neighborhood economic reality because it is falsified by the out sized impact of Wall Street. It is as much time for a new economic vision, as it is for a new mayor.