Living wage: New York mayor gives thousands of workers a raise

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s executive order requires business tenants in certain city-subsidized building projects to raise their minimum wages to $13.13 for employees who don't receive benefits.

Richard Drew/AP/File
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, shown addressing the United Nations, signed an executive order Tuesday that raised the minimum wage for employees in buildings that receive more than $1 million in city subsidies.

Thousands of New York City workers got a raise Tuesday, after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio took a page from the Obama administration’s executive order handbook.

Mayor de Blasio’s executive order will require business tenants in certain city-subsidized building projects to raise their minimum wages from $11.90 per hour to $13.13, effective immediately for employees who do not receive benefits. For those who do receive benefits, such as health insurance, wages immediately climb to a minimum of $11.50 per hour, up from $10.30.

Under previous regulations, only businesses receiving direct subsidies from the city were required to pay their workers wages more than the New York state minimum, currently $8 an hour. Officials said only about 1,200 workers were eligible for the “living wage” minimum, set under a 2012 law.

But Tuesday’s executive order will impact 15 times that number. It requires new minimum wages for all businesses in buildings receiving more than $1 million in city subsidies, increasing the number of workers eligible for the living wage threshold to around 18,000, officials said.

“We cannot continue to allow rampant and growing income inequality,” de Blasio told The New York Times Monday. “Every tool counts. If we reach 18,000 families with this tool and get them to a decent standard of living, that’s a game-changer for those families.”

De Blasio, the first liberal Democrat to occupy City Hall in two decades, already has made his mark on the city with a number of progressive measures passed this year to address the city’s income disparities. Since taking office, he’s initiated long term plans to build or preserve 200,000 affordable housing units, expanded the city’s paid sick leave regulations, and instituted his signature universal kindergarten and after-school programs.

The mayor’s latest initiative comes as state leaders are pushing to raise New York’s state minimum to $10.10 an hour, following the Obama administration’s proposal for a new federal minimum. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also has come out in support of allowing certain municipalities to increase their local minimum wage up to 30 percent higher, should they choose.

If the state does act, that would mean de Blasio could bring all of New York City to a $13.13 minimum wage, his stated campaign goal, which would then reach $15 an hour by 2019, the mayor said.

“I applaud Mayor de Blasio for raising wages for thousands of New Yorkers who are working hard every day to make ends meet,” said US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, in a statement. “Since President Obama first called on Congress to raise the national minimum wage, 13 states, Washington, D.C., Seattle, San Diego, and other cities have acted to boost wages for those at the bottom of the income ladder.”

Seattle became the first major American city to raise its minimum wage to $15 this past June. Cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago also have proposed raising their minimum wages.

Many business leaders in the city were tepid on the mayor’s move, however.  

The executive order "is unlikely to affect the city's overall economic growth,” Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, told The Wall Street Journal. “But some prospective commercial tenants will resist leasing space in projects that impose wage and compliance requirements that are more onerous than market practice.”

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