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Pharoah Bloomberg: Paying Workers Enough to Live Is 'Communism'

New York's billionaire mayor is so opposed to a tiny raise for workers at companies that get public money that he's vowed to sue. What's the deal with living wage laws anyway?

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And it couldn't, according to Penn State University's Living Wage Calculator, which calculates that one adult supporting only herself, working full-time, would need an hourly wage of $11.86 to survive in the Bronx. One adult with one child would need to make $19.19 an hour.

New York's new living wage rule, if it goes into effect, wouldn't even get there. “Under the terms of the legislation, any private development project directly accepting $1 million or more in taxpayer subsidies must pay employees a living wage of $10/hour with supplemental health benefits or $11.50/hour without benefits,” Living Wage NYC reported. It'd be a raise for workers like Valdez, but still not enough to really live on, let alone support a family.

So what do living wage laws do? “These laws are very different in intent from minimum wage laws which seek to establish a wage floor for the most vulnerable workers throughout the entire economy,” Mark Price explained. Instead of a minimum for all, living wage laws “are grounded in the idea that the public sector should set a good example--and discourage low-wage, low-skill, low-productivity competition--not just when it employs workers directly but also when it contracts with firms in the private sector.”

In other words, the city shouldn't be subsidizing companies with taxpayer dollars to create jobs—and then turning a blind eye when those jobs keep city workers in poverty.

Bloomberg and his wealthy friends' fierce opposition to the bill, which would, after Quinn's downward revisions, only cover a few hundred workers, is probably more ideological than practical. “The mayor and the real estate community can live more readily with the minimum wage because it's not tying strings to the development process,” explained Paul Sonn, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project. They're objecting to the idea, not that workers should make enough to live on, but that companies that get massive handouts from the city or state have any responsibility to the people whose taxes they're pocketing.

Yet around the country, activists are winning wage increases for workers based on just that idea. In Long Beach, California, backers of a living wage for hotel workers (including UNITE HERE and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy) have gathered enough signatures to get their proposal on November's ballot. If it passes, it would require hotels with more than 100 rooms to pay their workers $13 an hour.

“Long Beach voters understand that when workers make a living wage, the whole community benefits,” Sonya Clark, a Long Beach resident who gathered signatures, said at a press conference. “They have money left over to visit a local restaurant or take their kids to the movies, to really participate in the local economy instead of relying on social services.”

Price pointed out that both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have both in recent years enacted prevailing wage laws for service workers employed by city contractors—many of whom had previously paid well below the local wage scale.

And just this winter, students at the University of Virginia went on hunger strike in support of a living wage for workers on their campus, taking another step in what's been a 14-year campaign for justice for low-wage service workers.

Reviving a Movement?

As Stephanie Luce reported, a lot has happened over the past couple of decades since the living wage framework was born. More than 125 cities and counties enacted living wage ordinances, three cities have raised their minimum wage, and we've seen state and federal minimum wages go up. Eight states indexed their minimum wage to inflation, and activists are working for the same in 10 more.

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