De Blasio Moves to Expand Living Wage With Executive Order

Bill de Blasio delivering his State of the City speech. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

Bill de Blasio delivering his State of the City speech. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

As part of his State of the City address this afternoon, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to expand living wage legislation using a tool he has previously rarely mentioned: an executive order.

Mr. de Blasio announced that he will move to drop a lawsuit filed by his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, to halt legislation passed by the Council guaranteeing so-called “living wage” salaries to employees of projects that receive more than $1 million in city subsidies.

He went on to say he would work with the City Council to expand the benefits to “tens of thousands of additional New Yorkers”–but only after issuing an executive order “to set the expansion in motion.”

“We want to ensure that New Yorkers aren’t relegated to the ranks of the poor when putting in a full week’s work,” he said in his speech.

According to a chart provided several hours later by City Hall, Mr. de Blasio’s order would dramatically expand the purview of the bill, increasing wages to $11.50 an hour–indexed to the cost of living–for employees of projects that receive more than $1 million in city funds. The rules would include only three exemptions: for non-profit organizations, affordable housing and small businesses with less than $3 million in revenue. Beneficiaries would also be required to have a plan to provide health insurance to their employees.

The current version of the law–which mandates wages of $11.50 an hour (or $10.00 with benefits)–includes many more carve-outs, including exempting most employees of recipients’ tenants (such as the employees of a McDonald’s in a city-assisted mall), manufacturing projects, certain grocery stores, building services contractors, and small businesses with less than $5 million in revenue, among others.

An administration source said the executive order is intended to serve as a bridge between the current law and new legislation the mayor hopes the council will approve later this year. In the meantime, the order will serve as “an explicit policy statement that changes the posture of government”–denoting a key break from the Bloomberg years and directing the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which is responsible for forging most of the subsidy arrangements, “to drive a harder bargain in securing living wages on City projects until a new law is in place.”

The city is still looking at how best to include tenants, like the oft-mentioned McDonald’s workers, as part of the new framework, a spokeswoman added.

Mr. de Blasio’s decision to move forward with an expansion without council’s input raised eyebrows among some who suggested the mayor was making an active effort to bypass the body, perhaps to avoid a recent legislative push for a proposed “labor harmony” bill that would prohibit retail tenants in developments that receive city subsidies from opposing their workers’ efforts to unionize.

“Clearly this is a mayor, like several mayors before him … wants be able to drive his agenda on his own terms, and that means at the agency level,” said one insider. “Circumventing the council means he can avoid a drawn out process.”

But the move was applauded by other supporters of the expanded benefits, including Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a close de Blasio ally, who said she had not been briefed on the details of the mayor’s plan, but fully supported the idea of an executive order.

“You know, I think that that’s a great message that the mayor is sending. That in ways that he can, through executive authority, administratively, do these things, that he’s willing to do it,” she told reporters after the speech at LaGuardia Community College. “He’s basically saying that it’s a different mentality, it’s a different framework under which he’s operating and that’s a much more welcoming message.”

She added that she did not think the expansion “necessarily” had to go through the council, arguing the new mandate amounted to an administrative decision, which members of the council have always supported. “There’s no need for legislation … Same with stop-and-frisk,” she said. “If there was a willingness on the administration to do things administratively, that sends a very strong message about … the perspective under which he’s operating.”

Councilman Brad Lander, another supporter of the expansion, agreed the tactic was “perfectly appropriate” and said he was “thrilled” the new mayor was moving forward with the plan.

“I’m excited to make sure that those workers get the boost in the living wage law they would have been provided in the original law that a super-majority of council members co-sponsored,” he said.