Yesterday, we reported that City Council Speaker Christine Quinn lost support from a major business group for a living wage bill that she has been carefully negotiating.
That disappointing loss for Quinn, an expected mayoral candidate, doesn’t seem to make much of a difference for Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who said this morning — as he has said over and over again — that he’s fundamentally not a fan of the legislation.
But today on his weekly radio show, Bloomberg went further than offering an economic critique of Quinn’s proposal: He said he would sue if need be.
This latest threat marks a serious clash between the current mayor and the mayoral hopeful, who have sometimes been seen as close allies — though Quinn, likely thinking ahead to 2013, has made some efforts to distance herself from the mayor.
At stake in this battle is legislation that would require 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. It’s been an important bill for Quinn, who was initially able to get support from both labor leaders and business leaders through a compromise unveiled in January that limited the wage requirements to direct recipients of subsidies (as opposed to their retail tenants). Her successful negotiations between the competing labor and business interests unraveled this week when the Partnership for New York City, a major business group, dropped its support, because the bill does not give the mayor the power to waive the higher wage requirements in certain cases.
Bloomberg, speaking to John Gambling this morning, compared the living wage bill to communism.
“It’s interesting if you think about it. The last time we really had a big managed economy was the USSR, and that didn’t work out so well,” he says. “We cannot stop the tides from coming in. We need jobs in the city. It’d be great if all jobs in the city paid a lot of money and had great benefits for the workers. Not good for the employers. But if you force that, you will just drive businesses out of the city.”
The mayor referenced Fresh Direct and its move to the Bronx as a business that might have moved out of the city and taken its jobs with it, if these kinds of wage requirements were in place.
“We were lucky that Fresh Direct decided to stay here,” he said, adding, “You just cannot force employers to pay a rate that isn’t sustainable in their business, and it’s not the government’s business to do this.”
Referencing Quinn’s negotiations, he continued, “No matter how much you try to carve out certain industries and certain locations and certain size businesses, you’re going to hurt somebody. And we have done a good job of keeping New York City going in spite of the downturn in the country. We’ve done better, lost fewer jobs, recovered quicker.”
As he has said in the past, Bloomberg reiterated his plans to veto the bill — though he acknowledged that it’s expected that the City Council will have enough votes in this case to override his veto.
In that case, he said, “We certainly will go to court and sue,” adding, “Whether we win or not, you never know.”