A little over three years ago, a coalition of community and labor activists, religious leaders and elected officials joined together with the RWDSU to announce the launch of the Living Wage NYC Campaign.
The main goal of the campaign was to pass living wage legislation that would boost wages for jobs created on new economic development projects and commercial developments that receive taxpayer support. At a time of rising poverty and growing income inequality, the campaign quickly became a movement for economic justice. In church pews and on the streets, civil rights leaders, faith leaders, working people, immigrants and so many others across the city came together to echo the view that Dr. Martin Luther King preached about in his final sermons: No working person should live in poverty.
The result was the passage of the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, the most far-reaching and robust living wage legislation in the country. The legislation has already positively covered thousands of new jobs and many development projects in New York City. The law has been in effect for more than nine months and now covers over 12,000 new jobs across a range of new projects. The law has provided for living wage jobs—currently set at $10.20 an hour with benefits or $11.75 an hour without benefits—instead of poverty wage jobs that many taxpayer-funded development projects have created in the past.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg had sued to block the legislation, but his suit in federal court has already been thrown out. He and others in financial and business circles need to recognize and concede that their doomsday scenarios about companies and developers fleeing have been refuted. The New York City Industrial Development Agency, the agency directly responsible for assisting new economic development projects with taxpayer support, has been operating at full capacity with no change at all in the number of applications for subsidies since the living wage legislation went into effect.
The sky has not fallen. Nothing was lost. In fact, plenty has been gained.
Our business climate is as strong as before, and we are all better off with a higher-wage economy. Thousands, not hundreds, of jobs will continue to be covered and more will be created. That means skeptics who said this legislation would have little impact have also been proven wrong.
This legislation has real teeth. It proves that outdated notions of economic development are no longer acceptable. We will no longer tolerate billions of taxpayer dollars being spent to make wealthy developers and companies richer while condemning countless New Yorkers to poverty.
This legislation will move us toward greater fairness and justice. Our public investments in economic development and job creation will now help lift more New Yorkers out of poverty, expand the middle class and make our city a better place to live and work. The purpose of living wage jobs must be to create and maintain good jobs and build strong communities. That is why the living wage legislation continues to be more important.
A copy of the report “Economic Impact of the First Nine Months of Living Wage Legislation” can be found at www.rwdsu.org.