A huge crowd of activists, politicians and working New Yorkers gathered outside of City Hall yesterday in support of a hearing on increasing the living wage.
The long-awaited meeting was the first chance for New York City residents to voice their opinions on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s opposition to a living wage bill, Intro 251-A, that would require any city subsidized project receiving more than $100,000 or more to pay workers a "living wage" increase of $11.50 without benefits from $10.00 an hour plus benefits.
Key legislative supporters of the bill took turns speaking, while others outside held signs shouting, “Are we going to fight for freedom or oppression?”
Many protesters stood in force and rallied outside throughout the day, while legislators and other advocates held a hearing inside the building.
“No longer can we just have people just surviving,” said City Councilwoman Darlene Mealy (D-41st District) during a break from the contentious meeting. “There’s billions of dollars being made in New York City alone by developers and if we’re not paying people the minimum wage or living wages so that people can be economically empowered, we as elected officials are doing something wrong.”
The mayor did not appear at the hearing, sending instead Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Tokumbo Shobowale to respond to critics and make the case for why the Bloomberg administration will not support the bill.
In a prepared testimony, Shobowale said the 251-A wage mandate would be the “most sweeping” in the country. Citing a city-funded study, Shobowale also stated that the bill would hurt small businesses, increase unemployment and “drive private investment in the city down.”
However, supporters of the bill are skeptical of the city’s study, arguing that other large cities around the country have passed similar living wage bills without harm and claiming that the city-sponsored study is categorically flawed as a whole.
"The assessment of real estate market impacts is based on a mischaracterization of the proposed law and focuses on a subsidy program that it does not even cover," said co-author James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute.
"Furthermore, the assessment of labor market impacts is based on a methodology that has been demonstrated to be unreliable for evaluating the impact of living wage laws."
30 Council members have already signed on to the bill, which grew out of a 2009 debate over wages to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx.
Yet, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has spoken against the bill in the past, refused to take a position on the legislation. Many speculate her absent stance on the bill is tied to mayoral ambitions, where a vote in support of the bill could jeopardize her standing in the business community.
Without Quinn’s support the bill will have little chance of ever getting to the floor.