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Back Pay For Seasonal Workers? Dead in Committee

On Tuesday, the Common Council’s Civil Service Committee held a public hearing on a resolution authored by Delaware District Councilman Mike LoCurto urging the administration of Mayor Byron Brown to heed a court decision declaring that the city’s so-called “seasonal workers” are covered by the city’s living wage statute—a law that Brown championed when he was a councilman—and consequently were due back pay to compensate for the years 2004 to 2007, when they were paid less than the statute requires.

The hearing was sparsely attended by the media, despite the best efforts of the Coalition for Economic Justice, which has been fighting the living wage battle with the recalcitrant Brown administration for years. Governor Andrew Cuomo was in town at the same time, across Niagara Square in the convention center, where the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council presented its blueprint for a billion-dollar investment in the region’s economy before an audience of several hundred politicos, bankers, real-estate developers, and business people—the sorts for whom a “living wage” means something very different than it means for the likes of Abraham McKinney, a city sanitation worker who pre-taped video testimony was present to the Civil Service Committee, chaired by University District Councilwoman Bonnie Russell. McKinney, like other “seasonal” workers, works alongside “permanent” workers for less pay, no benefits, and no protections; the only difference is he is forced to take a furlough every year, at no pay, so that the city can maintain the fiction that he is only “seasonally” employed. The city’s Living Wage Commission opined in 2007 that the city owed such workers back pay, in accordance with the living wage law; this past April, State Supreme Court Justice Tim Drury affirmed previous rulings handed down by two other state courts that concurred with the Living Wage Commission.

“We sanitation workers worked hard for that money, we earned it, we deserve it, but we aren’t getting paid,” McKinney said in the video. “The city took it to court for the past four years, and during that time, each time, the courts have given the ruling to us. We won it, so why won’t the city act on what they’ve already taken to court?”

All this litigation, instigated by the Brown administration, have cost the public time and money. And it is likely to cost even more. At Tuesday’s hearing, the city’s law department—which continues to fight against back pay for seasonal workers, despite losing at every turn, in every court where the case has been heard—asked that the Civil Service Committee table LoCurto’s resolution. Why? Because, according to the law department, the matter is still being litigated. That is, the Brown administration intends to appeal—again.

The law department agreed to brief the committee on the status of the case, but only in executive session, out of the public eye. The committee complied, tabling the matter, which is where the item is liable to remain indefinitely.

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