A bill in the City Council that would require businesses that make more than $1 million to make their minimum wage over $10 is creating some division between Black council members.
Last Tuesday, the council debated the bill that could increase minimum wage for many businesses from $7.25 an hour to $10 an hour or $11.50 an hour if there are no benefits. Unionized retail workers support the bill while Mayor Michael Bloomberg opposes it.
“It should be a no-brainer,” said Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron. “Too many council members are afraid of the speaker and afraid of the mayor. This living wage is only calling for $10 an hour. That’s no real money. Everything has gone up but your pay. We need to stand strong with our people and support this living.”
One of the members at the center of the debate is Harlem Councilwoman Inez Dickens, who said that she wants to make sure that small businesses, which make up most of her district, are taken care of in the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, also know as the Living Wage Bill.
In an op-ed last week in the Daily News, Dickens explained why she decided to vote against the Living Wage Bill. Two years ago, she was one of over two dozen council members who sponsored the bill, but she now feels that only workers at big box stores like Best Buy and Target will benefit.
Recently changes to some amendments have been made and Dickens said that she is currently looking over them to make a decision on whether she will support the bill.
“In the case of a living wage, I had some serious issues as it relates to small businesses,” Dickens said in an interview with the AmNews. “Some of my colleagues don’t know what I am talking about. I don’t have Costco or Macy’s. Most of our storefronts are just storefronts. Even the Black and Latino developers get small buildings from the city.”
Dickens said that she recently went on a walk of small businesses owned by women of color in her district to get a sense of some of the issues impacting them. She said that in her district, which includes Upper Manhattan, small businesses are some of the only places creating jobs.
“They are trying to get my support back,” she said. “It is not that I don’t support a living wage, but the current bill as it’s written does not enhance small businesses. [And the] only people who are hiring are small businesses.”
While not solving the big unemployment issues in New York City, Dickens spoke of some Black-owned small businesses in Harlem that have had recent hires, including a locksmith shop that has hired two people and a Black-owned fire extinguisher business that recently hired 15.