Hard political questions facing City Comptroller John Liu (36436)

The walls keep closing in on New York City Comptroller John Liu. Mainstream Daily Newspapers are leading the charge after a court ruled that he tried to force the city to pay “inflated” wages to furniture movers.

The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department, concluded in a unanimous ruling that Liu’s way of setting the wages was “arbitrary, capricious and lacked a rational basis.” The court also said that Liu ignored the data he collected on wages of similar workers in the industry and just applied the rates from a union’s collective bargaining agreement to the movers.

As comptroller, Liu sets the prevailing wage rate that city contractors are required to pay their employees. The goal is to protect workers and keep companies from driving down wages by lowballing contract bids. Liu would review the pay of those in several different occupations receive and set the salary accordingly.

A spokesperson from Liu’s camp responded to the AmNews with their thoughts on the court ruling.

“While we have been waiting for this decision, our office has gone ahead and instituted a comprehensive survey of the moving industry, which will continue as planned,” said Mike Loughran, Liu’s senior press officer. “We will review the decision and weigh our options for moving forward.”

Last month, the AmNews reported that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had issued an executive order that took away the comptroller’s ability to set the salary for plumbers, carpenters and other maintenance workers. According to Lillian Roberts, executive director of DC 37, “These employees will not be subjected to collective bargaining.” Bloomberg’s move would affect 10,000 municipal trade workers, which is about 3 percent of the city’s workforce.

Mainstream Daily Newspapers were quick to take Liu to task after the ruling was announced.

In an editorial in last Thursday’s Daily News, Liu was called “incompetent” and said that he’d shown a “cavalier regard” for rules and regulations.

“But perhaps this was predictable,” read the editorial. “When Liu ran for office, the Daily News reported he had falsely claimed to have worked as a child in a sweatshop. Liu stuck to the fable even after his mother denied it happened. That’s the kind of guy he is.”

The AmNews engaged in an exchange with spokespeople from Teamsters 814, the union that represents the furniture movers. They told the paper they would send a comment, but one was not obtained by press time.