Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Developers: Not Necessarily Of One Mind

In the wake of a push by many in the community benefits movement for new laws mandating "living wage" compensation at state-subsidized developments, a letter from the head of the Urban Redevelopment Authority has fallen into wide circulation:

Dear URA partners,

As you may have read in the Post-Gazette, the City is engaged in a discussion regarding a potential 'living wage' policy for the City of Pittsburgh.

The discussion as framed by the Post-Gazette is the potential for a policy that would require developers and businesses receiving public funding to create 'living wage' jobs. While I think we all support the concept of living wages, we worry about putting the City at a competitive disadvantage as well as potential unintended detrimental impacts to City residents and neighborhoods. Whatever the outcome of this discussion, the implications for future City development and doing business in the City is sure to be long term.

We are asking that you make your opinion known to the Mayor's Office, your City Councilmember, and the media. What would a living wage policy mean to your business, your tenants, your business district, etc.? If you request, your response to me will be kept in anonymity.

I sincerely hope to hear from you.

Thank you,

Rob Stephany

The Pittsburgh Comet echoes this request and offers the same assurances.

In addressing this solicitation to URA clients, Stephany may have been unintentionally inviting a skewed response sample. Think about all the developers which have not yet had the good fortune of having bids and applications approved by the city's URA. In addition, think of those who have not even chosen to deal with the City of Pittsburgh for any number of reasons.

In response my forwarding along this e-mail, a local community organizer forwarded back to me an interesting perspective from a hotel operator on the Left Coast:

As the owner of a large hotel on Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport, I am well aware of the opportunity for economic growth and prosperity in the area, fueled in part by an increasingly important hospitality industry.

Century Boulevard is home to the largest concentration of hotel rooms in Los Angeles County and has the highest industry revenue of all the region's sub-markets. The hotels on the boulevard are enjoying higher occupancies than ever before, resulting in a tremendous increase in profits from previous years. However, the corridor is still a relative bargain for travelers when compared to other markets in the county and those around other major international airports. (LAT, Peter Dumon)

Sound relevant so far?

Management and labor need to stop fighting each other on the living wage law. There should be one simple goal: serving the traveling public. If we do this well, we can easily afford to pay our associates a living wage.

Although this is in the interest of many constituencies, hotel owners are really the ones who stand to gain the most from dropping their illogical opposition to the law. A vigorous, well-trained labor market benefits our bottom line. Dedicated and fairly compensated workers committed to a career in the industry will help us increase our guest-satisfaction levels while reducing employee turnover. In short, the living wage is a profit-enhancing idea. (ibid)

To this, I would only add that for many kinds of retail developments -- setting aside hotels for a moment -- an economically secure workforce also contributes to a vigorous and more stable local consumer base.

True, Mr. Dumon appears to have penned the above only after a living wage ordinance in LA became law and was upheld in court. Yet at the same time, he is testifying not only that doing so did not constitute the end of the world, but that there was an affirmative upside.

I wonder if we can find similar thinking in Western PA. If we can't, I wonder what we can do to get some.


  1. Somebody ought to ask Mr. Stephany if he supports prevailing wage laws favoring construction workers.

    And then ask him to explain the apparent inconsistency in his reasoning (to the extent it exists).

    And then ask whether his apparent comfort with logical inconsistency can be traced to the mayor and county executive.

    And then ask whether the campaign contributions from the building trades unions are the real reason for the inconsistency.

    And then ask how the city's economic development spending at Iron City Brewing is working out.

  2. Well, that settles it. $100/hr! That should be a livable wage.

    Seriously, how much is pushing a broom, cleaning bathrooms and making beds REALLY worth? Jeez, you could train chimpanzees to do that work.

    Want a living wage?

    Stay in school. Strive to be better. Learn a trade. Work hard. Drop the attitude. Resist peer pressure. Move.

    Tough advice, but real advice.

    What's a 'living wage' anyway? My ~$90,000/yr is not livable anymore... no raise in 7+ years... college tuition now [NO assistance, cash or loans only], so don't even start on me. KMA.

  3. I'm going to re-post comment given interest in CBA's and Unions...

    Bram you said:

    "to me -- a lot of the "big box" style development does seem to occur in or near especially depressed neighborhoods."

    Alpark Terrace, comes to MY mind.

    Why not a CBA between the International Union of Boilermakers Local 154 and those that lost homes (Alpark Terrace) because of Unionist Expansion.

    (Stimulus money 'tax-dollars' plays role in filling Union Coffers and PAC'S)

    Why don't I see SEIU and CFWA pushing for CBA for Alpark Terrace Community?

    Living wage? Not until you treat your neighbor with same dignity that you demand...

    The International Union of Boilermakers Local 154 are whoremongers.

  4. Conservative Mountaineer: you know what, it's that logic that sure sounds a lot like this quote "well, the world needs ditch diggers too"

    the fact is you, we, all, need all workers, workers of every type, we need thinks, fixers, makers and doers...we all get paid differently but no one deserves to be patronized by statements like yours and depictions like "chimpanzees"

    it's funny you say "chimpanzees", to me that sounds like you're referring to people of "color" and not your tight, white conservative behind

    but anyways, I digress

    why is it that all so-called conservative folks have issues with those who may not be as educated, privileged, driven or successful as the next person, it's as if there's only one magical solution to this b.s, "Stay in school. Strive to be better. Learn a trade. Work hard. Drop the attitude. Resist peer pressure. Move." it doesn't always work that way, everyone's different and live different lives, just because someone who may do something that you deem menial, unnecessary or as simple that a trained "chimpanzee" can do it does that make it only worthy of slave's wages and treatment??

    wtf, man, ease up

    the radical right conservative POV is really repetitive and losing it's appeal, it's as if you only want people, all people, to do the same exact thing and never live their own lives

    are you happy at all w/ your $90K a year job, your conservative tight ass PO?? sure doesn't seem like it and I don't believe the folks who merely want a wage they can live and quite possibly rise above from one day think you are happy either

  5. Hows about paying out more than what we pay to incarcerate folks?

    Better yet, why don't we pay everyone at a level that eliminates government run health and human services, schools, housing and law enforcement? You pay for your own education, health care, housing, utilities, retirement and defense of your own property and well being.

    That would eliminate most of what local and state governments provide, right? Limited government, yes?

  6. Monk - Your e-mail address does not seem to be working anymore ... I have info for you relevant to a portion of your comment. E-mail me.

    Conservative Mountaineer - For the record your "chimp" comment didn't strike me personally as racial, but it did strike me as ugly. I agree generally with Anon 9:08 that the world, our economy specifically, requires an awful lot of housekeepers, cooks, servers and caretakers. Also I feel that many (most?) modern people have and are overcoming life hurdles which make the achievement of diligent 40-hour workweek of any kind a true success, of the kind meriting some sort of baseline economic stability for themselves and their families (neighbors we have to live with, unless We the Successful are to flee all cities and cavort only with likewise success stories).

    Infinonymous - A little on-the-nose, don't you think?

  7. Query - why is it that NSU is on one hand arguing that subsidized development should pay people a wage that requires them to live in "subsidized housing," but on the other hand in conjunction with requesting living wage jobs they are asking for funding for more subsidized housing?

    Second question - why is no one pointing out that nothing, absolutely nothing, prevents the workers at these hotels, etc. from organizing once the facilities are built?

    Third question - has anyone thought about the fact that usually the reason a project gets public money is because the financing doesn't work without it?

    Final question - what happens to the small business owner that gets subsidy to fix up his/her store front or to upgrade facilities? Will they be burdened with the legislation you advocate? Gee, I bet the state legislators and suburban communities think we are real responsible now. Act 47, decreasing tax base, sounds like a great time to saddle business with extra expense. I'm sure the banks that already aren't financing deals will jump on board now.

  8. Who told Rob to write that bulls*&t? Sounds like YZ called Erine Hogan who called JF and asked that RS defend LR's position. Next the rev. councilman will tell you his side of why there should be no living wage!

    This city has no damn leaders.

  9. Spot on Info.

    BTW bram: a "democrats lie" site launched past my filter when I was reading the URA letter. Who are the new guys?

  10. Without underplaying the importance of living wages and better jobs, It would be good to get back to the broader ways that CBA's can and do work, often by other monikers. CBAs are brokered in many neighborhoods when there is leverage (zoning variances, incentives, and of course strong leadership).

    A living wage is just one of many techniques that should be openly and honestly discussed. The problem is that this administration really does not want to have this dialogue. If the Mayor were serious he would not hide behind YZ and RS.

    He should follow the town meeting format that Obama has been using...If you believe you are right and have the facts to back it up, you should have no fear of debate.

    Lastly, as someone who works with developers AND social activists AND community groups, I can say that there is room for movement without scaring away developers. The best developers will not walk...they are bluffing if they say so.

    An independent consultant well versed in CBA and real estate should also do a few serious case studies on the cost impact and benefit. If we are honest we will see the "truth is always in between". The truth is out there but the rhetoric on both sides gets in the way.

    A deep review of a number of projects such as South Side Works/American Eagle, JRA Federal North deal, and Bakery Square will show how the real estate sausage is made. All of these projects have a wide range of subsidies that depending on the breadth of your view can be effective. Bakery Square is a great example, where an honest discussion about how the TIF and state funds benefit the project but also the community. The project has saved an historic building, created 200,000 sf of quality office space and attracted others to East Liberty and is leveraging more private development, long term. The hotel deal, traffic planning and the garage (uglier than the Casino Garage!) are the scandals that could have been avoided with the right leadership.

    At the end of the day, the biggest problem is the lack of TRANSPARENCY and honest publication of accurate financial analysis behind these deals BEFORE they are done not after the fact.

  11. Anon 9:36 - Why haven't we heard any of that yet? Because the conversation only blew up in earnest a week ago! So thanks for your questions.

    1. Because PGH's need for subsidized housing is apparently so great that in order to cope with it we need to both 1) take steps to ensure less people need it and 2) increase funding towards it for the those who do and who aren't getting it or aren't being well-served by it. It seems a consistent position to me.

    2. The argument goes it is awfully, AWFULLY hard to get an employer to play fair regarding the rights of their employees to organize once they're already in the organization's power. I actually have some experience in this, and can say that the cavalier illegal transgressions of employers combined with a lack of any enforcement capacity from the NLRB is daunting. That's why the EFCA or "card-check" (which the Mayor and the Governor support at least nationally and nominally) is so popular.

    3. That must be true in some cases. It is also probably not true in some others, and it's impossible for the average person to identify which is which. Either way, the fact that the public is contributing to a project is one decent argument, IMHO, for saying they deserve some cut or some considerations when it comes to planning and public amenities. If it helps, think of receiving a subsidy like taking on a partial investor.

    4. Hey, tell you what: I'm up for exempting Streetface-style subsidy recipients from forthcoming living wage requirements IF Streetface-style subsidies become more equitably distributed geographically across PGH. It all looked pretty narrowly targeted the last time I checked, but I could be misinformed.

    Anon 10:17 - The blog in my blogroll "Braden's Corner of the Net" used to be known as Democrats Lie, and still has that as its web address. I absolutely think it was a coincidence that it "popped through your filter" while reading the URA letter, because I simply cut and pasted regular text from an e-mail.

  12. Anon 9:36 "Third question - has anyone thought about the fact that usually the reason a project gets public money is because the financing doesn't work without it?"

    That may be true of some projects, it certainly isn't true of others, specifically, anything else that is going in on the North Shore. There is no development on the NS, that is not expected to provide big payoffs to the owners. Give me a break.

  13. might be a good place to start. Leed ND is not some wacky notion dreamed up by a bunch of Northside "kooks" as one critic called us.

    Interesting to note that the developer lot quoted in Rich Lord's piece today are a bunch of local dudes that make a hell of a lot more than $10.62 / hr.

  14. The "chimp" comment was ugly.

    Pissing on the people below is a bad idea for almost everyone, because there is almost always someone a rung higher, usually with more and better piss.

    You'd think an adult earning less than a first-year lawyer, with children who didn't earn merit scholarships, who isn't up to the task of a single raise in seven years, would recognize that.

  15. Hey, tell you what: I'm up for exempting Streetface-style subsidy recipients from forthcoming living wage requirements IF Streetface-style subsidies become more equitably distributed geographically across PGH. It all looked pretty narrowly targeted the last time I checked, but I could be misinformed.

    You are not misinformed Bram. A majority of taxpayer funded URA Streetface grants went to convicted felon(healthcare fraud)Joe Edelstein and Wylie Holdings.

    See the last comment here.

    The Jim Parsons report w/video is here.

  16. Here is a site that lists CBA campaigns that are out there. Look at the great success stories. Look at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, one of the earliest and most successful stories. Imagine the City we would live in if we were half as successful as some of the cities who are building thier communities, and creating new job opportunities.

    (Thanks for the link Bram.)

    Mountaineer - you area an elitist, & a capitalist pig. I bet your grand daddy sure was pissed when someone told him that the south lost the war between the states(keep buying guns and more ammo waiting for the south to rise again)

    To the "anon" that suggested that why don't these workers just organized?

    The deck is stacked against them. Every 15 minutes a worker is terminated for union activity.

    The public tax dollars subsidize these corporations who use the monies they SAVE to fight off workers attempts to organize.

    Even after workers do organize, they face years upon years of employers who refuse to bargain and go unpunished.

    Tell me why UPMC teaches businesses how to fight off union organizing attempts? As a non-profit (GAG ME) who has a mission to provide heathcare-services.. How do they justify spending money on this ?

    Northside United would probably settle for card check in these new developments, however the developers have rejected card check.

    Mayor Luke and Danny Boy have FAILED TO BACK ORGANIZED LABOR and support thier efforts for CARD CHECK at that new casino.

    So in one breath Luke and Dan support the Employee Free Choice Act... But what has either of them done to get card check for workers in Pittsburgh?


    We have a mininum wage law in this state and across the nation. A wage that does not provide workers who work 40 hours a week, access to housing, transportation, quality health insurance, and the basic necessities of life?

    Ever try getting by working two or three jobs?

    There is a great book- Nick and Dimed in America.

    This book documents life as a worker who makes mininum wage and is working multiple jobs just to get by. Please note this book was written a decade ago, long before the financial crisis of current days.

    It is funny that this issue comes up to day, because the HUDDLER was just out at the Bakery Square project yesterday... It amazes the huddler that Lukey and City Council came up with or approved of this "floating" hotel, gave the developer 10 million dollars out of the 113 million dollar project, and wouldn't even support "card check" for the couple dozen workers that will be employed at the hotel.

    This was another fine example of Luke et al turning thier backs on workers in this City, all in the name of progress?

    Follow the money, Walnut Capital BOUGHT and PAID the mayor along with some members of council!!

    Rev. Burgess needs to go to confession for selling out his district when it comes to these deals !!!!

  17. I am unclear on the "on-the-nose" point. Do you mean "aimed precisely?" "A personal jab?" Something else?

    Do you believe there is no logical inconsistency between Ravenstahl-Onorato-Stephany positions on prevailing wages for construction workers and living wages for non-construction workers? What generates this obvious inconsistency?

    I consider those questions to be not only reasonable and proper but also sorely in need of being asked. The P-G isn't going to touch this (unless, maybe, Sabatini and Boselovic get involved, but they seem to be immersed in the ethical swamps of West Virginia), so I hope you will consider asking Mr. Stephany or Mr. Zober or Mr. Ravenstahl or Mr. Onorato.

    I would do it myself, except for the whole "nonymous" thing . . .

  18. Infinonymous - Yes, "on the nose" meant painfully accurate, as in, when Jeff King was on the Pirates and Vince Lascheid played "I Am A Pirate King" when he stepped to the plate. However, in your case I could even have written, "A little on the chin, don't you think?"

    HUDDLER - You obviously have a good read on labor. I know Luke and Dan officially support the EFCA, but I wonder have you seen them out there supporting for it, lobbying for it, rallying the troops for it and against those who are still on the fence? Tell me honestly. Something about how YZ kept saying "card check" instead of "employee free choice" gave me the impression that though the EFCA is unavoidable Democratic party dogma, they could actually take it or leave it.

    TheTruth - Those are some classics, and classics never grow old. But in fairness that was like three years ago. I honestly don't know what's up with Streetface lately. I no longer see any mention of a "Streetface" on the URA website, which is why I wrote "Streetface-style subsudies" above. I assume a URA program like that is still in existence because of Anonymous 9:36's query about upgrading store fronts, but the moniker Streetface became too hot to handle.

    Anonymous 11:12's comment was so good I may have to reproduce it in an actual post.

  19. The HUDDLER has NEVER witnessed either Luke or Danny roll up the sleeves and endorse or promote the Employee Free Choice Act.

    They both attended a town hall meeting months back over on the Northside (of all places) PROMISING to support EFCA and hold our elected officials in Washington accountable to working families.

    Fast forward to present day and never once has either of them supported or promoted this legislation publicly, or insisted that the people they "do business with" on a day to day basis support the employee free choice act.

    When Specter was in town for the statewide democratic committee meeting he spoke to organized labor outside the convention center hotel... Where was Dan? Where was Luke?

    Congressman Mike Doyle was there supporting working families and the other two were probably in the presidential suite kissing Governor Eddy's fat A$$ !!

    Shame on both of them... The HUDDLERS expects that Danny may have a difficult time outside of the trade unions getting support in his race for governor.

  20. In China they do a version of CBAs all the time. Bottom line is that the state decides and often just owns it too.

  21. Rauterkus - In China, I don't think NU and PIIN could have made it through the past two weeks.

  22. fyi, Pittsburgh UNITED, the parent organization of the Northside United campaign were the sponsors of the EFCA townhall in February.

    Pittsburgh UNITED, is also a chapter of the national Partnership for Working Families ( The macro goal is to create lasting coalitions among progressive labor unions, faith-based organizations, evironmental organizations, civil rights and community organizations to push progressive policy agendas.

    CBA's are a tool for creating econonmic equality in cities by leveraging public resources. There are many other tools as well. I encourage folks to dig around on the site and also the sites of the other PWF chapters throughout the country, like LAANE in Los Angeles.

  23. some reporter should simply ask Yaroone Zober:

    "Have you ever had conversations, made phone calls or sent emails from the Mayor's office threatening retrebution if one were to contribute or otherwise support political candidates or elected officials opposed to Luke Ravenstahl?"

    He has but I doubt if he would own up to it.

    The recent letter from Rob Stephny of the URA to thier "partners."(sent via direct order of Yarrone Zober and Ravenstahl political director, John Verbanec) is yet another intimidation tactic.