Now is the Moment to Expand and Strengthen the Living Wage Law

Now is the Moment to Expand and Strengthen the Living Wage Law

Now is the Moment to Expand and Strengthen the Living Wage Law
September 25, 2014

When the New York City Council passed historic living wage legislation last year, it was an important step on a long road toward creating a fairer and more equitable city.

The premise of the legislation is simple and widely supported: when public money is used to fund private development projects, the public has the right to expect quality jobs will be created as a result, not low-wage jobs that keep workers in poverty.

The historic coalition assembled by the RWDSU--workers, faith leaders, labor leaders, community leaders, immigrant leaders and elected officials--championed the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act because of its potential to help reduce income inequality and enable struggling New Yorkers across the city to gain access to better-paying jobs.

Now, with strong and committed progressive leaders in charge of city government--Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito--there is a major opportunity to take this living wage legislation to the next level. The best way to do that is by expanding the scope of the legislation so it includes a "labor harmony" requirement for all future economic development projects subsidized by taxpayer dollars.

Labor harmony agreements in economic development are well-established in New York and other places around the country. They benefit taxpayers, working people and businesses alike. Employers maintain neutrality when it comes to workers’ efforts to form unions. That is to say, employers don’t interfere with or block workers’ attempts to organize. And in return, unions agree not to engage in picketing, work stoppages, boycotts and other disruptions in the operation and flow of commerce at companies and stores that serve as tenants in development projects.

City taxpayers have a proprietary interest--a direct financial stake--in retail developments and other projects funded with large sums of public money. Labor harmony promotes healthy, respectful relationships between workers and employers, and protects taxpayers by removing conflict from development projects and the businesses that anchor them. It also helps workers by creating a clear path for them to choose if they want to join a union. And without fear of intimidation and other tactics used regularly by employers, workers will join unions more often and help New York City create living wage jobs that can strengthen our communities.

Historically, collective bargaining generated the greatest number of living wage jobs. That is still true today. Union jobs offer better pay and benefits, and deliver the kind of security that families need not just to survive but enter and stay in the middle class. Requiring labor harmony for all future development projects funded with taxpayer dollars can help make our five boroughs fairer, more equitable places to live and work. A stronger city where more low-wage New Yorkers climb up the economic ladder is well within reach.

Stuart Appelbaum is president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, UFCW.