News & Politics

Christine Quinn Loses Major Business Group Support for Living Wage Bill; Says ‘Writing Legislation is Difficult’


Christine Quinn, faced with the challenging task of simultaneously negotiating the interests of labor groups and business groups in a new living wage bill, has lost the support of the city’s major business organization — a disappointment for the City Council Speaker, who is expected to run for mayor in 2013.

The surprising news last night that the business group Partnership for New York City would no longer support the bill was a major shift from what was said at a press conference in January when Quinn was able to bring together business leaders and labor leaders and announce a compromise that both sides could stand by.

“Unfortunately, the original group of supporters we had that day in January are not fully intact at the moment, which is a disappointment, but I’m very proud and glad with the final version we are getting to,” she told reporters this morning.

The bill requires higher wages for employees at city-subsidized developments, so that companies would have to pay employees $10 an hour plus benefits instead of the current $7.25 minimum hourly wage. The compromise unveiled in January was that companies that receive substantial subsidies from the city would have to pay employees the living wage rate — but not the retail tenants of subsidy recipients. In this compromise, Quinn seemed to successfully navigate competing interests of labor leaders, who want higher wages, and business leaders, who fear that far-reaching requirements would hurt companies and cost the city

A new stipulation in the bill, which is expected to move forward this month, seems to have unraveled that compromise.

The business group would only support the bill if it included a provision allowing the mayor’s office to waive the higher wage requirements in certain cases. The latest version of the legislation does not give the mayor the power to exempt some companies doing business with the city — a loophole which was not previously disclosed — causing Quinn to lose the support of the Partnership for New York City. Capital New York has an extensive interview with Kathryn Wylde, group’s C.E.O., who said that Quinn gave in to the pressure from advocates.

Quinn addressed the latest developments this morning when chatting with reporters after an event about the Titanic’s 100-year anniversary at South Street Seaport.

“There were…a number of different perspectives, who thought the idea of an executive waiver being included was a good idea,” she said, referring to a possible provision that would give the mayor the power to exempt businesses. “At the end of the process, we just weren’t able to come to an agreement on the scope, breadth, and depth of a waiver in a way that was able to meet everyone’s needs.”

She praised the Partnership for New York City. “Kathy is I think a terrific New Yorker and somebody we’ve worked with on a…long, long list of different issues. Her input has made this bill fairer and better. I take Kathy at her word in what she said yesterday that she’s withdrawn her support for that bill. I’m disappointed about that. But I obviously accept that and look forward to moving on and working with her on other things.”

When asked how this could impact her relationship with the business community, Quinn said that the bill is still the product of lengthy negotiations with business leaders. She emphasized the changes that were made in January that the Partnership supported and which are still intact in the latest version of the legislation.

“It was important to me that the bill be very substantially changed — and this was a lot from input from the business community — to only include direct recipients of benefits, not tenants who get no benefits from the City of New York. I think that very fundamental change, which the business community was strongly and is strongly in support of, is key to making sure this law will not stagnate job growth,” she said. “Unfortunately, their lead organization can’t be supportive of the final wording of the final bill.”

This legislation is getting a lot of attention in part because the final product and its supporters could be an indicator of Quinn’s mayoral platform and the groups she hopes to court in 2013. The topic of a living wage is also an opportunity for the Council Speaker to distance herself from the business-friendly Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has contintually spoken out against the bill and is expected to veto it.

When asked directly how this could impact elections in 2013 — since she has been “straddling” between the interests of union and business leaders in this legislation — Quinn called that a misrepresentation of the situation.

“With all due respect, I haven’t straddled anywhere and I resent that characterization. I am a legislator. Some of my colleagues came to me with a concept and a bill. Who doesn’t support the concept of lifting people’s wages up? No one. Everyone supports that, or everyone should support that. The bill sought to do that in a way that I thought was dangerous and would hurt the economy. So I worked to try to get to a different concept that could bring more people together, raise wages, and not stagnate job growth. It’s not about straddling. It’s about having a perspective of, how do you keep jobs growing with higher incomes, and how do you do it in a way that’s right? Writing legislation, as evidenced in this process, is difficult,” She said. “The great thing about legislation is it’s impactful. The bad thing about legislation is it’s impactful. If you don’t get it right, you can cause unintended consequences.”

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