Monday, January 25, 2010

Night of the Living Wages

I had been kicking around another post about the prevailing wage brouhaha and just hadn't gotten around to it, so it seems Bram has beaten me to the punch and I suppose that gives me a good enough segue into beating a dead horse:

The debate over a prevailing wage ordinance was retread by the public in City Council today -- but the specific cons popular with the Trib and with some anonymous commenters here seemed conspicuously absent.
Dewitt Peart, president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, told council he was "not stating an opposition to what you want to do, it's just how you went about it.

"We feel that the private sector was really not engaged to the extent that it should have to make sure that this legislation is the best that it could be," he said, asking for time to "review the legislation, so we don't have negative impact." (P-G, Rich Lord)
This bill was formally introduced two months ago, and had been in public circulation for far longer than that. You haven't reviewed it yet? Don't have anything concrete yet to offer? Just say you don't want folks in Pittsburgh who receive taxpayer subsidies to be made to pay their service workers at least the industry standard. That's an honest argument.
Well, to this point the answer is: those that are pushing this bill (*cough* SEIU *cough*) don't actually have a lot of answers about what this bill is going to do to development in the City. Sure, in a place like LA or NYC, you can implement this kind of legislation, but in a weak market City... well, who knows? The results of the legislation may be no jobs versus shitty jobs, and that doesn't help anything. Not to mention that no one out there can actually tell you what the "prevailing wage" of some of these job classifications are for the City. For all we know, this is a lot of huff and puff about nothing, but we don't know that yet.

And the second point: well, Patrick Dowd did offer a number of (never entertained) amendments to clarify the bill, which should be a modicum of evidence that the bill, as written, may have some *ahem* issues.

Moving on:
One councilor pointed out during last week's fracas that activating Living Wage, as it is now written, will require even small non-profits who do business with the city such as Just Harvest -- not to mention the city's seasonal youth life guards -- to greatly increase everybody's compensation to $24,000 per anum. It sounds like the old bill needs some deeper, concentrated work. Other members hold the view that scheduling a tentative vote not until Feb. 17 is a crime on par with the Holocaust.
And Bram sort of hits on the nub of the Living Wage bill: This is a bill designed to fail. See, on one hand you have a bill demanding that developers pay a prevailing wage; on the other, we have a bill demanding that the City pay a living wage. The arguments against the City paying the living wage are EXACTLY THE SAME as the arguments that the developers are using against the prevailing wage. The Living Wage bill is not meant to pass; it's supposed to a rebuke against anyone or any group who is saying "do as I say, not as I do."

But, hey: maybe maybe the Living Wage bill will in fact pass, only to have the State overseers striking it down later. Who knows?

Again, it's not that the opposition is actually opposed to anyone getting a Living or a Prevailing wage. It's just that no one has actually sat down and done the number crunching on the impact of these bills on jobs in the City. The only voice that's being heard right now is from SEIU (who, let's be fair, stands to gain immensely from its passage, not only here, but across the country) with no one really putting up data from the opposing side. One would think that between nine councilpersons we'd be able to assemble a half an economist, who could parse through all of the rhetoric.

Or is that asking too much of council?


Bram Reichbaum said...

I have a two word answer for anyone who asks me whether or not I've considered the economic impact of a policy: Chris Briem.

Forgive me for not having a link to his long rumination on PW handy, but I read it as such: no, we do not know the likely results of PW, but those results are likely not computable for all the research in the world; and it is precisely because of that plethora of variables which go into development decision making that he said it's UNLIKELY to have any grossly determinative negatve effect, and if perchance it does, we can always repeal or amend it. Is that an accurate summary? If so, it sounds good to me.

Now, on the issue of this being awesome for SEIU: um, yes. But when I think of special interests that have driven policy in this city (off a cliff), when I'm done thinking of business and th Conference I then think of our public sector unions -- police, fire, DPW -- and then the building trades. Given those historic habits and the outcomes we've received, I for one have no problem giving janitors and housekeepers some time at the helm. They've waited patiently, they've finally gotten themselves organized -- how much worse can they possibly do?

That's a rhetorical question.

Bram Reichbaum said...

Here we go:

O said...

Qui bono? Janitors and housekeepers or Gabe Morgan?