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Controversial ‘Living Wage’ Debate Heats Up In New York City

Some Workers Stand To Be Paid Up To $4.25 More Per Hour If Bill Is Passed
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New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn speaks during a news conference on marriage equality in Albany, N.Y., on Tuesday, May 17, 2011. (credit: AP Photo/Mike Groll)

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn speaks during a news conference on marriage equality in Albany, N.Y., on Tuesday, May 17, 2011. (credit: AP Photo/Mike Groll)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Mayor Michael Bloomberg is against it and Council Speaker Christine Quinn is straddling the fence, but that didn’t stop hundreds from attending a hearing on a controversial bill to boost the salaries of some workers. It’s called a “living wage.”

It was a press conference hailing the construction of a new Staten Island grocery store getting $2 million in city subsidies. The owners were asked if they could still go ahead if a “living wage” bill is enacted.

“It would be almost impossible because our profit margin is very low,” Joseph Doleh told CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.

Under the bill projects like the Coney Island redevelopment, the Hudson Yards, the Intrepid, all built with city tax breaks, would have to pay their workers a so-called “living wage” of $10 a hour with benefits, or $11.50 without benefits, instead of the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

It is very controversial. Mayor Bloomberg insists it will drive jobs away. Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Quinn equivocated, saying that while she wants to raise wages she wants to do it “without doing anything that would make New York City a less desirable place to start or relocate a business or hurt our job creation.”

And at a hearing on the bill there was no shortage of strong opinions.

“From Egypt to Tunisia, from Wisconsin to ‘Occupy Wall Street’ there is a movement for social justice in this country and the living wage fight in New York is an integral part of it,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

“It’s an across-the-board substantial increase in labor costs in a city where it is already extremely expensive to do business,” said Robert Bookman of the Council N.Y. Nightlife Association.

Given the strong feelings on both sides of the issue there’s bound to be a whole lot more political wrangling before it comes up for a vote or if it comes up for a vote.

The bill applies not only to projects built with city tax breaks, but also to businesses like restaurants that may be located in the buildings.

Do you think the “living wage” is a good idea? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below.

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