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NYC Follows Pittsburgh’s Lead on Prevailing Wage

March 1, 2010

NEW YORK - Pittsburgh has been called America's "most livable city," and New York City is taking a cue from its Pennsylvania neighbor about providing a livable wage. Pittsburgh last month passed a comprehensive prevailing-wage law for publicly-funded work sites, and New York City is expected to debate a similar law soon.

City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito already has 26 co-sponsors for her measure. It would require employers at city-subsidized developments to pay building service workers the prevailing wage and offer some health care benefits.

"I think we really want to be able to preserve jobs that pay well, that allow families to be able to continue to live in the City of New York and make it possible for workers to provide for their families. So, we should not be applying tax dollars to creating poverty jobs."

Mike Fishman is president of 32BJ of the Service Workers International Union (SEIU), the union local that represents 70,000 service workers in the city. He says New York is making progress, with the prevailing wage already paid at a number of major projects, although right now, he says, decisions are being made one development at a time.

"That's at projects like Willets Point, or Hunters Point or Coney Island, or Greenpoint-Williamsburg. We also have been able to get it included in the standards for subsidies to build affordable housing. But we think really, in order for this to work, and put everybody on a level playing field, it should be a city-wide policy."

Fishman says right now workers at many city-funded sites get paid poverty wages, and this measure would stop that from being the case.

"It calls for the prevailing rate to be paid, for workers who do cleaning and security in the buildings that receive tax subsidies from the city, or development subsidies. So, it means a decent rate of pay, with some health care."

In Pittsburgh, the mayor opposed the law but did not try to veto it, because he did not have enough votes for an override. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has agreed to prevailing wage requirements for individual development projects, but has not commented on this measure.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY