The political climate has changed dramatically since Bill de Blasio was swept into office as a progressive mayor on the strength of his Tale of Two Cities campaign, which struck a deep chord in Queens and other outerboroughs.
No longer are people spending long hours debating bike lanes and supersize soft drinks as they did under the Bloomberg administration. The conversation now has shifted to income equality and higher wages for chronically underpaid workers.
De Blasio maintains 46 percent of New Yorkers are living at or near the poverty line, which means a family of four is struggling to get by on $46,000 a year or less, based on city definitions.
This is a shocking statistic, brought into focus by the Port Authority’s order to JetBlue, American and United airlines to raise contract workers’ salaries to $10 an hour as part of their lease agreements at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports.
Patrick Foye, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appointee as PA executive director, delivered the ultimatum in a letter to the carriers this week after Delta agreed to comply with his original Jan. 27 edict requesting the wage hikes. Foye acted after several Queens lawmakers were arrested last month when they joined a protest outside LaGuardia by workers asking for wages they could live on.
In his State of the City address in Long Island City, de Blasio warned that New York cannot wait for Washington or Albany to take action.
He pledged to break ranks with Albany to raise the minimum wage for city residents, a move likely to release a firestorm in the state Legislature, which last year approved an increase from $8 an hour in 2014 to $9 in 2016. Cuomo has already torpedoed the idea.
With the City Council speaker’s help, the mayor was able to add 500,000 more city residents to the list of those eligible for paid sick leave.
But for all his ambitious plans to give every New Yorker “a fair shot,” de Blasio faces his biggest challenge with the city’s municipal labor unions. Some 300,000 members have been working without a contract for years.
Despite de Blasio’s often undeserved criticism of Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor left the city in sound shape except for the issue of labor negotiations.
De Blasio has a tough road ahead when his income equality vision collides with the reality of union workers not having had a raise in years.
How the new mayor deals with the unions will determine whether he can deliver on his promises to both cities.