A repetitive refrain filled City Hall’s council chambers on Tuesday morning. For a good hour at a zoning committee hearing on the contentious plan to redevelop the Bronx’s Kingsbridge Armory into a mall, council member after council member battered the Bloomberg administration and the developer, the Related Companies, with a similar line of questioning: Given that city subsidies are to be used in the $323 million project, why isn’t there a guarantee that all the future mall’s jobs will pay a “living wage?”
“You’re basically saying that the city is going to subsidize a project that basically is going to have jobs that are not even committed to paying the minimum poverty level,” said Councilman Robert Jackson, one of at least seven consecutive members to bring up the wage issue.
This all came as very welcome, if not unexpected, news to Stuart Appelbaum, the politically connected president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, who has been relentlessly pushing the Council on the living-wage issue.
“I was pleased with every single one of the members of the committee who were there today,” he said. “The city is putting so many resources into the armory that I think we have the right to ask for something specific in return.”
Recession be damned. New construction may be scarce in New York, but now many a union is viewing the present as a prime time to win new labor concessions at economic development projects overseen by the city, raising wages and opening the door for easier union organizing.
A collection of unions has been ratcheting up pressure in the past few years on a resistant Bloomberg administration over development issues, extracting concessions on individual large-scale projects such as Willets Point in Queens. Given the help, both organizational and financial, that they provided this past election season, labor leaders hope the political scene is ripe for spreading the policies they’ve been pushing. After all, unions and the labor-heavy Working Families Party won numerous victories in Council races this past fall, and the two citywide office winners other than the mayor, John Liu as public advocate and Bill de Blasio as city comptroller, were both backed by many unions.
THIS GOES WELL beyond the Kingsbridge Armory.
On Monday, a bill was introduced in the Council, pushed by the building service workers union SEIU 32BJ, that would require nearly every economic development project receiving city subsidies to guarantee prevailing wages—typically well above minimum wage—for the service employees. The hotel workers’ union, which backed Mayor Bloomberg, as well as Messrs. Liu and de Blasio and the majority of new council members, has been pushing to require Council approval on new hotel development, an area the union presumably wants to continue and expand.