What do you think of the recent uproar about the development of the Kingsbridge Armory? I bring it up for a number of reasons, not the least of which many readers will have strolled past this incongruous edifice on their merry march between The Archway and Durty Nelly’s.
Some too will have staggered out onto the pavement after pulling an all-nighter to the stormy traditional symphonies of Johnny Cronin, Andy McGann and the Joes (Banjo and Accordion) in the legendary Bunratty.
There was nothing quite like ogling this19th Century fortress next to the Jerome Avenue El while one chose between facing the music at home or delaying the pain with breakfast at the nearby Greeks.
Enough of such nostalgia! The bare facts of the dispute concerned the City Council voting down a $310 million refurbishment of the Armory because the developers, Related Companies, refused to guarantee a “living wage” - $10 per hour with benefits or $11.50 without.
The only wage Related placed on the table was the minimum, currently $7.25 per hour.
There would have been up to 1000 workers employed in the reconstruction and one assumes - given that City money was involved - these jobs would have been unionized; although one could be accused of rank optimism given the attendance of Mister Rat outside so many construction sites nowadays.
Still, let’s assume that we are only talking about the proposed 1200 retail and maintenance workers who would have ultimately been employed within the refurbished “Fort Cultimagh,” as a well-oiled Mayoman labeled it one bleary morning.
It’s an interesting case and highlights the new America.
On the one hand, I come from a background where half a loaf beats the hell out of no loaf at all. To that end, I support President Obama’s imperfect Health Insurance Bill, because - as happened with the 1935 Social Security Act - there will be ample chance for improvement down the line.
And so, one part of me feels that 1200 jobs are not to be sniffed at, since the Bronx has at, 13.9%, the highest rate of unemployment in the state.
On the other hand, how in the name of God can you be expected to live in New York City on $7.25 an hour unless you’re working around the clock? For that matter knocking out 40 a week at ten bucks an hour will hardy guarantee you a view of the leafy glades of Riverdale from your balcony; it may even preclude you sipping your Chardonnay in a Hunts Point walk-up.
All irony aside, this case has far reaching implications for New York. We hear a lot about middle class flight, should we also be concerned with an exodus of minimum wage working class?
Apparently not, people are crying out for any kind of work and many thousands were expected to apply for these 1200 jobs regardless of pay.
When I broached the matter at my local saloon, I was chided by a number of people – including the hardworking Mexican bar-back – who insisted that these would make great foundation jobs to be supplemented by, for instance, a late night car service stint.
The consensus, in that watering hole at least, ran against the politicians, unions and community leaders who held out for a living wage – that they were interfering in a time honored American tradition; and that the opportunity to work was far more important than the remuneration.
It’s a tough call as many other cities do enforce “living wage” conditions where public money is involved, and all sides appear content - if not delirious with the situation.
And then you think - the Bronx has given a lot to this city. Perhaps the Yankees and others who have traded on its name would care to lend a hand and kick in the difference between the minimum and living wages.
How about the 140 or more banks that dot the borough - any chance of a buyback, guys? Maybe the masters of the universe down at Goldman Sachs itself would care to guarantee a couple of hundred jobs a year? Or would that be interfering unduly with the American way?
Hey, when all is said and done, there might be room for a new Burattay inside a restored Fort Cultimagh where the ghosts of Cronin, McGann and Banjo Burke could saw and clatter away to their ghostly content.
They might even call one of their heavenly reels, “The Living Wage.”