Four Years Hard Labor

For the labor initiatives, the rhetoric is similarly caustic, ridiculing policies that give subsidies without wage guarantees. “Tax dollars shouldn’t create poverty jobs,” said Mike Fishman, president of 32BJ.

“Incumbents and new members of the Council are all people we’ve had relationships with, and most of them people we’ve worked with and helped,” he said of the bill, introduced by Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito. “I don’t know what the percentage will be, but I think we’ll be able to get to a majority and pass it.”

The situation at Kingsbridge is illustrative of the broader issues: Had the planned giant mall gone before the Council a few years ago, the retail workers’ union likely would not have put such considerable pressure on the council, content instead to take whatever union jobs might be created on their own as opposed to trying to kill the whole project.

(Indeed they haven’t: Numerous mall projects have been approved by the Council in recent years without living-wage guarantees, including one by the same developer in the same borough: Related’s Bronx Terminal Market.)

“We’re taking a new approach to dealing with economic development, as it relates to retail workers,” Mr. Appelbaum said.

Indeed. Mr. Appelbaum and his retail union, as well as others, are trying to get the Council to kill the Kingsbridge mall over the living wage, about $10 an hour for this project. Related says it will walk away from the project if living wage is required.

 

IN A SENSE, it’s surprising New York doesn’t have many of these wage restrictions already. Despite a comparatively robust labor movement locally, unions in numerous other cities—Oakland, Minneapolis, San Antonio—have been more successful in forcing laws requiring higher wages for employers that receive city subsidies.

Perhaps it’s due to New York having two successive Republican mayors, or perhaps it’s a testament to the power of the city’s real estate industry, which would surely resist such measures.

Either way, for labor, their goals remain little more than aspirations, and having a few more labor-friendly elected officials in City Hall hardly guarantees success on issues generally resisted by the Bloomberg administration and the business community.

City officials have, with varying degrees of success, pushed back against labor on wage requirements in development projects, saying such restrictions will scare away investment.

Mayor Bloomberg addressed the issue Tuesday morning, coming down against the unions in the context of Kingsbridge, saying the city “shouldn’t be” guaranteeing wages in private building.

And then there’s the issue of the economy, the fall of which has flattened development citywide. Any added burdens would change the economics of developments, meaning either that developers would need to take on more risk or seek more subsidy. Thus the real estate industry can surely be counted on to oppose any broader union push.

Particularly with regard to Kingsbridge, the living-wage issue seems to be a frustrating one for the administration, which wants to see it disappear. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Bob Lieber, deputy mayor for economic development, became agitated after repeated questions from reporters about living wages, which followed an hour of questions from the Council. “Mandatory wage requirements,” he said bluntly, “Scare. Tenants. Away.”

ebrown@observer.com