After failing to stop the New York City Council from passing a living wage bill last year, outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg is winding down his term by suing to kill the law.
The City Council overrode Bloomberg’s veto in 2012 to require developers and businesses who receive at least $1 million in city aid to pay workers either $10 an hour with benefits or $11.50 an hour without. But Bloomberg’s office has refused to implement the law, claiming it violates New York’s state minimum wage law. This argument successfully derailed the city’s similar prevailing wage law, which was reluctantly struck down by State Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Wright over the summer.
In his decision, Wright acknowledged that he personally felt the law “could benefit the people of New York” and challenged the “wisdom in the mayor’s zeal for the possibility of welcoming to New York City a business that would pay its building service employees less than the prevailing wage.”
New York City’s stark income inequality has attracted close scrutiny in recent years, particularly after Mayor-Elect Bill De Blasio won his campaign largely on a platform of making the city more hospitable to lower income and middle class workers. The gap between rich and poor widened during Bloomberg’s term, as housing prices soared and homelessness grew by 60 percent.
Meanwhile, city developers have enjoyed multi-million-dollar tax breaks and low-cost financing under Bloomberg, a practice De Blasio plans to curb. De Blasio has promised to eliminate several programs that shell out billions of dollars in subsidies every year, and redirect the funds toward the City University system and other educational programs for workers. He has also sworn to enact an expanded living wage law when he takes office next year, but could be stymied if Bloomberg wins his lawsuit.
Even if the law survives Bloomberg’s challenge, New York City has become so expensive that even $11.50 an hour may fall short of a “living” wage. As TPM’s Peter Dreier demonstrated, there is virtually nowhere in the U.S. where a family can get by on $11 an hour, let alone in New York, where average monthly rent recently passed $3,000.