Tag Archives: Living Wage

Emergency!

4 Aug

The completion of the decade-long Bass Pro courtship has suddenly resulted in a flurry of Canal Side related activity.  Instead of talking about new retail jobs, we’re talking about preserving existing ones.  HSBC has shifted a lot of work out of Buffalo, and the city is scrambling to keep what we already have.  HSBC’s lease in its eponymous tower is up in 2013, and they’re talking about what they want.

On Tuesday, Mayor Byron Brown called an extraordinary emergency session of the Common Council for Wednesday to debate and vote on whether the city will transfer the Webster Block (the parking lot in front of HSBC arena) to ECHDC as part of a deal to keep HSBC in downtown and enable it to expand its operations.  

But some city lawmakers continue to balk at anything where “community benefits agreement” doesn’t appear in the same sentence as “Canal Side”. Even with Bass Pro long gone, some continue to demand a CBA, which would require jobs at Canal Side to pay a “living wage” – about $10 – 12/hr, depending on whether the employer offers health insurance. The state minimum wage is $7.25.

I imagine that HSBC is very good at paying a living wage, thanks, and on its face that shouldn’t be a sticking point here.  Furthermore, as an inducement for their votes, Mayor Brown has offered up $1MM per common councilmember to spend in each district as they see fit.

But there’s no current guarantee that the Webster Block will actually go to an HSBC-related use, and what if *gasp* Cabela’s or something else ends up in there without a CBA in place!?

In this instance, there is a very real potential that the city will sacrifice real & existing, well-paying, white-collar jobs on the lofty principle of guaranteeing a set of less-crappy wages for hypothetical, future jobs.

Hypothetical emergencies aside, I guess the first “tenant” for Canal Side’s “mixed-use” project will be HSBC, and possibly even Philips-Lytle.  There seems to be a lot of panicky brinksmanship going on with the Common Council, and perhaps everyone should take a deep breath and figure out what’s really going on with respect to HSBC.  It’s sometimes like we pivot from emergency to emergency, and each time the patient dies on the operating table.

The Three Dollar Job Killer?

17 Mar

In Buffalo, we don’t so much have progress as we have differing degrees of failure.

In Buffalo, we don’t so much have problems as we have problems of our own making, oftentimes plunged through with the best of intentions.

The Canal Side project on the inner harbor will exist thanks to massive expenditures of public money. $300 million in public money to build an open-air shopping center with pretty bricks. As a result, the city’s Common Council has unanimously passed a resolution, which amounts to a condition precedent to the city transferring the Bass Pro site to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation. The city wants a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) in place to ensure that there are green buildings, minority-owned businesses, affordable housing, and that workers at certain businesses earn a living wage.

Jim Heaney thinks the CBA is an important positive step. Brian Castner thinks the CBA will kill the deal. Specifically, Brian cites the “living wage” provision that would kick in for workers at any business employing more than twenty people (read: Bass Pro). He says the living wage is a “completely unrealistic number not paid by retail establishments anywhere in the country”. The details of any CBA have yet to be worked out, but here is how Buffalo defines a “living wage”:

Buffalo’s Living Wage Ordinance was passed unanimously in 1999 and amended in 2002 and 2007. It provides that certain workers must be paid a living wage. As of January 1, 2010, the rate is $10.57 if the worker receives health benefits from the employer and $11.87 if the employee does not. (The 2009 rate was $10.31 with benefits and $11.57 without).

The Ordinance applies to all City employees. It also applies to employees working under contracts with the City when the contract is for more than $50,000 and the employer has more than ten employees. Subcontractors are covered as well.

The city has made the policy determination that its employees, and employees working under city contracts, should earn what amounts to a couple of dollars more than what the McDonalds on Sheridan pays. The minimum wage in New York State right now is $7.25 per hour.

Is a $3 – 4 difference in hourly wages a dealbreaker for a Bass Pro, which is looking to be the recipient of millions of dollars in incentives, as part of a $300 million outlay of public money? I somewhat doubt it. Is it the best news to come out of City Hall in forever? I doubt that, too. But I think it’s unfair to criticize a city council as succumbing to special interests when the whole project is being publicly funded.

If someone wants to ensure that Canal Side is successful and return retail to Buffalo’s central business district, the creation of a sales tax-free zone, as recommended by the late, lamented WNY Coalition for Progress in July 2005, would be the best first step.

Hopefully, the CBA provisions will be negotiated in such a way that everyone can claim to be satisfied. Luckily, Buffalo is a major producer and net exporter of hope.