Fordham Law

Living Wage Advocates Set Sights On Seven Key Council Members

Fordham Law in City Hall, May 09, 2011

Media Source

by Chris Bragg

Advocates for a living wage law in New York City have trained their lobbying efforts on seven fence-sitting Council members whose support would give the bill a crucial veto-proof majority. 

Queens Council members Leroy Comrie, Ruben Wills and Mark Weprin; Brooklyn’s Erik Martin Dilan and Diana Reyna; Jimmy Vacca of the Bronx; and Jessica Lappin of Manhattan are the prime targets for living wage proponents, according to an audio recording of a meeting amongst the bill's supporters at Fordham Law School in mid-April, obtained by City Hall.

At the meeting, Living Wage NYC campaign coordinator Ava Farkas described the seven Council members as “the people that we’re really focusing on, that we think are movable.”

A hearing on the bill, which would require developers that receive a certain amount of city subsidies pay a living wage, is scheduled for Thursday.

Supporters of the bill have lined up 29 co-sponsors. At the meeting, Farkas said obtaining a veto-proof majority of 34 co-sponsors was key, since Mayor Michael Bloomberg would presumably veto the bill. Out of the seven Council members Farkas said were top targets, five would have to sign on to reach that mark.

But whether all the Council members cited by Farkas are actually “movable” remains unclear.

Vacca, the only Council member from the Bronx who has not signed on as a co-sponsor, said he believes a living wage mandate could create a disincentive for developers to do business in New York. He said that he has been lobbied aggressively—including by a group of Bronx pastors, who recently held a protest and a prayer vigil outside the Council member’s office.

But so far, Vacca remains unmoved.

“I do appreciate and accept any prayers that are directed my way,” he said.

Ruben Wills, who Farkas cited as one of the most likely to sign on to the bill, expressed surprise when told that he was being targeted by living wage proponents.

“They’re focused on lobbying me?” he said, before quickly ending the call.

Other attempts to reach the fence-sitting Council members were unsuccessful.

The entire conversation about lining up co-sponsors could be moot if Council Speaker Christine Quinn does not bring the bill to the floor. Various proponents and opponents of the bill are getting briefed by the Economic Development Corporation this week about a $1 million EDC-funded study on the effects of a living wage mandate in New York City.

A diverse set of witnesses are expected to testify in favor of the bill at the Thursday hearing. Proponents will point to evidence they say proves that a mandated living wage has not killed jobs in other cities and that taxpayer subsidies would go to developers that create decent jobs.

According to a source close to the living wage campaign, the witness list is expected to include Donald Spivack, a former economic development official from Los Angeles who will speak to the positive impact of a living wage bill there that passed in 1997; Bill Lester, co-author of a Center for American Progress study on living wage; Caitlin Kelly, the author of MALLED: My Unintentional Career in Retail; and Fredy Kaplan, vice-president of the Stonewall Democrats, the gay rights group that is pushing Quinn to support the bill and which represents a key constituency for the speaker.

The living wage bill would require all employers in developments that receive more than $100,000 in city subsidies to pay workers $10-per-hour if the employer pays health care benefits, or $11.50 an hour if they do not.