Mayor Bloomberg says he is prepared to go to court in his effort to get city government out of the business of telling private employers how much they should pay their workers. That’s good. The so-called “prevailing wage” and “living wage” bills are little more than a campaign tactic disguised as “progressive” public policy, designed to bolster organized labor’s support for Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s presumed mayoral campaign next year.
The Council has passed two bills that give the city the power to dictate wages. The first bill, the “prevailing wage” legislation, is designed to raise the pay of service workers, security guards and other workers in properties that receive subsidies of more than $1 million a year. The Council estimates that the bill will lead to wage hikes of between 35 to 45 percent—some service workers in the affected buildings already make nearly $25 an hour.
The bill would give the City Comptroller—a position currently occupied by scandal-scarred John Liu, a union favorite—the power to determine what the “prevailing wage” is for positions covered by the bill. The Mayor immediately vetoed the bill, correctly noting that this sort of legislation is a “throwback to an era when government viewed the private sector as a cash cow to be milked, rather than a garden to be cultivated.” Unfortunately, this admonition was lost on Councilmembers—they are expected to override the Mayor’s veto.
The “living wage” bill made it through the Council on April 30. This bill will require employers who receive more than $1 million in city economic-development subsidies to pay their workers at least $10 an hour (the current minimum wage is $7.25) plus benefits, or $11.50 an hour without benefits. Some sectors would be exempt from the legislation, including manufacturing, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Mr. Bloomberg will veto this bill, too, but the Council will override the Mayor. That leaves him with two choices: Accept the Council’s irresponsible behavior, or continue to fight. Mr. Bloomberg has vowed to keep fighting.
The two bills offend the Mayor’s private-sector values and simple common sense. Government, the Mayor noted, is not “the architect of the economy—that’s the private sector’s job.” Precisely.
This message, however, hasn’t quite made it down to the next level of government, where the City Council remains mired in the old politics of big government. And, of course, let’s not forget that Speaker Quinn wants labor’s support next year, as do other Councilmembers running for re-election.
Legislating ought to be left to legislators and the executive branch. But the Mayor is right to resort to the judicial branch in his effort to stop a politically driven scheme from becoming law. Let’s hope that judges recognize the Council’s folly.
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