Politics

Stringer Criticizes Lack of Oversight on Living Wage Expansion

Continuing their passive-aggressive war of words, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer accused Mayor Bill de Blasio of a “bait-and-switch” by cutting his office out of enforcing the expansion of the Living Wage law through an executive order.

At a press conference Wednesday, Stringer disputed de Blasio’s assertion that nothing about the Living Wage expansion changes Stringer’s enforcement duties. The mayor’s executive order, signed on Tuesday, raised the mandated wage for workers on projects that receive $1 million or more in city subsidy from $11.50 an hour to $13.13 an hour, tapping the Department of Consumer Affairs as the agency tasked with enforcing the new law.

Stringer said that creating this new class of worker inadvertently stripped him of this duty, and hinted that he and his counsel are considering legal action. In the meantime, Stringer said he would urge the City Council to introduce legislation that would restore his office's ability to enforce the law.

“I commend the mayor for expanding a living wage for more individuals, it’s something I’ve long supported, and I think it’s very significant,” Stringer said. “But what I don’t understand is why you would expand the rate for a class of workers and then remove the independent agency that watches out for the rights of those workers. That, to me, makes no sense. You’re taking that authority to investigate and putting it into a mayoral agency with no history or track record of doing this work.”

De Blasio and his aides maintain that Stringer is misinterpreting the executive order, which simply follows the language of the original Living Wage law by designating an agency to ajudicate complaints brought by workers. The original law specifies that the comptroller would investigate any claims made by workers and then refer the case to the mayor’s designee, in this case, the Department of Consumer Affairs. The executive order clarifies that it “shall not be construed to infringe upon the comptroller’s responsibility for monitoring compliance with, and conducting investigations under, the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act.”

Stringer and his staff countered by noting that the City Council law that was originally passed set a different wage rate for investigation purposes, and that because the comptroller’s authority to investigate is derived from the Council statute, the new executive order calls into question their authority.

“Executive orders that are put in place should be long-range, and comptrollers that come after me and mayors that come after [de Blasio] are now in a very precarious situation because now, for the first time in history, we are actually doing less oversight to protect the rights of workers,” Stringer said. “That, I believe, goes against everything the mayor stands for. Public Advocate de Blasio would have never have allowed this to happen without speaking out, and Comptroller Stringer is going to make sure that we have a clarion call to change this executive order.”

Stringer is not the only city official to raise objections over de Blasio bypassing the legislative process to expand the Living Wage law. Several Council members have voiced their concern with being shut out of the process, especially considering that the law likely would have passed anyway.

At a separate press conference Wednesday, de Blasio reiterated that there was plenty of communication with the Council on this issue, and that he had made it clear for months that the administration intended to move forward with expanding the law. De Blasio dismissed Stringer’s suggestion that “petty politics” may have played a role in the perceived undermining of his authority.

“The bottom line is that we’re very cognizant of the different roles that each agency plays, and under the executive order, the comptroller’s office will investigate complaints related to any violations of the executive order, and we’ll respond to the complaints in the first instance,” de Blasio said. “But the Department of Consumer Affairs has the enforcement capacity. It is an organization that literally reaches out across the city every day on a variety of issues, and has the enforcement capacity to act on any complaints, and that’s the natural division of labor.”

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