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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bronx Faith Leaders Throw Support Behind Living Wage Bill

Ed. note: This story appears in the latest edition of the Norwood News.

Clergy members from the Bronx and across the city led a silent march on City Hall on Nov. 17 to voice their support for the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, or “Living Wage Bill.”

The legislation, sponsored by Bronx Council members Oliver Koppell and Annabel Palma, would require most development projects that receive public funding to pay workers employed there a living wage — $10 an hour with benefits or $11.50 an hour without.

The bill was sparked by a contentious debate last December over the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory, when the City Council — backed by a fierce coalition of Bronx advocates and Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. — voted down plans for a shopping mall at the hulking Kingsbridge Road landmark.

The Related Companies would not agree to require retailers to pay a living wage there, despite the fact that the group was slated to receive tens of millions of dollars in subsidies, had the project been approved.

The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act has gained momentum since its introduction in May, and faith leaders from churches and synagogues across the city say they are putting their support behind the bill.

“I am distressed by the number of our parishioners who are behind in their rent, deep in debt and working second jobs to try to catch up,” said Rev. Doug Cunningham of New Day United Methodist Church, a parish based in Bedford Park and Norwood.

“Low wage jobs are a cancer in our community. City money must go toward creating jobs that pay a living wage.”

At the Nov. 17 march, Cunningham and about 100 other faith leaders delivered signed postcards from parishioners to City Council members, urging them to take action. The bill currently has the support of 28 members, but is opposed by the business community as well as Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The mayor and the city’s Economic Development Corporation spent $1 million this year to commission a study of how wage guarantees would impact the city economically. Bronx legislators who support the living wage bill, however, say the study is “rigged” and that the group chosen to produce it, the Boston-based Charles River Associates, has a history of opposing living wage laws.

The Fair Wages Act would apply to any development project that receives more than $100,000 in city support.

“This bill simply requires developers who want to come into our communities to agree to give back to our communities,” Palma said at a rally for the act this spring.

So far, Councilman James Vacca, whose district includes Pelham Bay, Throgs Neck and City Island, is the only Bronx representative who hasn’t signed on in support of the act.

“We’re not committed to the bill yet, but we’re looking into it,” said Vacca spokesman Bret Nolan Collazzi, who added that the councilman is “open” to the legislation.

--By Jeanmarie Evelly


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