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Do Barclays Center jobs really pay a "living wage"? Not unless workers get 40 hours a week (and they don't)

Barclays Center officials have made a big deal out of hiring approximately 2000 workers (some 1900 part time), most from Brooklyn, with a significant chunk from the nearby Community Boards as well as from public housing.

They're far more closemouthed, even after a year, about whether those jobs could actually support and individual or family living on their own.

While they stress the hourly pay represents a "living wage" above $10/hour, they won't disclose the starting wage (A source tells me $12.50 for some jobs, a figure well below Madison Square Garden), or say how many hours people work. After all, a living wage is defined as the combination of that hourly wage and a 40-hour work week.

So it went last night at a meeting of a Brooklyn Community Board 6 committee, where arena Community Affairs manager Terence Kelly came to give an update on hiring.

By the end of September, he said, there were 2060 "active hires," some 76% Brooklyn residents. The percentage from Community Boards 2, 3, 6, 8 dropped from 30% 28%, while public housing residents stood at 31%.

At the last hiring event, in September, more than 90% were from Brooklyn, and over 35% from the four Community Boards, Kelly said. He didn't mention why there was such a hiring event, but, since the pool of part-timers is essentially unchanged--the number of full-time hires has risen from a projected 105 to 150-160--there must have been a lot of attrition.

The part-time jobs, some 1900, generally work in either facilities, food concessions, or housekeeping. The meeting of the Economic/Waterfront/Community Development & Housing committees was held at P.S. 58 at Smith and Carroll streets.

Drilling down: health benefits

Kelly was asked by a board member "what percentage of the jobs pay a living wage of over $10 an hour," whether there were health care benefits, and whether workers were in a union.

He repeated the statistics, noting about 1900 are part-time or event driven. "Those are all unionized jobs through 32BJ and Local 100, so across the board they receive union benefits. And in terms of health care benefits and additional, benefits and resources of the union are extended after a period of time, such as in any other collective bargaining agreement."

It's unclear whether any actually get benefits, or whether they can afford them. (Forest City executive Ashley Cotton previously said they didn't get benefits.)

A search on the 32BJ web site shows that full-time workers are eligible for health benefits. If you click through as a part-time worker, no results are shown.

Some members suggested that a union rep come and speak to the board, and Kelly seemed amenable to that.

Drilling down: wages & hours

What about the wages?

"They're above living [wage]," Kelley responded. "In terms of living wage, you mean above $10/hour?"

Yes, he was told.

"They're all above $10/hour," he responded.

How many hours a week is part-time?

"It's really dependent.. on the collective bargaining agreements," Kelly said, "because seniority allows people to staff--the staffing and deployment of people is different and there's no set standard. So you could work a reasonably short period of time, and you could work whatever the maximum is in the bargaining agreement, which I offhand do not know and I certainly could get that answer to you."

Last year, arena developer Bruce Ratner said the jobs were "up to" 30 hours a week. After company officials said the then-2000 jobs represented 1240 FTE (full-time equivalent), I did the math and calculated that worked out to 23.6 hours a week.

Surely Barclays Center officials could tote up the total hours worked, and then divide by the number of part time workers.

I asked a question: "What's the starting salary?"

"I can't answer that," Kelly responded.

"You said living wage," I continued.

"They're above $10 an hour," he said.

"But living wage is premised on a 40-hour week," I countered.

"I answered the question as best I could with the information I have," he responded. "I'm not thinking 40-hour workweek when I said living wage, I was just thinking, in the context of $10 an hour."

At, say, 24 hours a week, a wage of $12.50 works out to $300/week. A 40-hour workweek at $10/hour works out to $400/week, or $20,800 a year.

But, as indicated below, a living wage in Brooklyn is actually $12.75, so 40 hours a week is $510/week, or $26,520 a year.

What's a living wage?

The current minimum wage in New York state is $7.25/hour, but it will rise to $8/hour by the end of the year and to $9/hour by the end of 2015.

According to the web site Living Wage NYC:
Under an ideal living wage, someone who works an ordinary 40 hour per week job would be able to afford shelter, food, health care, and other basic necessities of life. Existing legislation defines a living wage in New York City as a minimum of $10 per hour with benefits, or $11.50 per hour without benefits.
Wages for certain jobs at the Barclays Center, I'm told, start at $12.50. According to the Living Wage Calculator from MIT (linked from Livign Wage NYC), a living wage in Brooklyn for a single adult working 40 hours a week is $12.75. That's surely unattainable at the Barclays Center.

The explanation:
The living wage shown is the hourly rate that an individual must earn to support their family, if they are the sole provider and are working full-time (2080 hours per year). The state minimum wage is the same for all individuals, regardless of how many dependents they may have. The poverty rate is typically quoted as gross annual income. We have converted it to an hourly wage for the sake of comparison. Wages that are less than the living wage are shown in red.
No protest from ACORN

Ironically enough, some arena supporters might find room to protest the wages at the Barclays Center. In May 2000, according to a 5/10/00 Daily News article headlined SHARPTON LEADS SALARY PROTEST AGAINST ATLANTIC MALL DEVELOPER, the Rev. Al Sharpton and ACORN led a demonstration arguing that tax breaks for Forest City Ratner were not passed on to provide anything more than a minimum wage at the Atlantic Center Mall:
[ACORN's Bertha] Lewis called for what she termed a living wage - $10 to $12 an hour for workers without benefits, $8 an hour for those receiving other employment benefits.
At that time, the minimum wage was $5.15. So Lewis's definition then of a living wage--$10-12/hour-- was between 194.2% and 233% of the minimum. A similar ratio today would be between $14.08 and $16.89.

Or, alternatively, those protestors could simply point to the living wage calculator and request $12.75 and 40 hours a week.

Staff cutbacks?

Kelly was asked last night about the arena's announced intentions to save money on staffing. Will that affect hiring?

"In terms of workforce development, I think that we're still sort of refining," he said. "These numbers are not going to drastically reduce. I think, in terms of cuts, we're looking more at less overtime for shows, if we can project better.... Those are where the efficiencies can be improved from one year to the next. Certainly, as mentioned from the CEO and down, was a lot of money thrown at the first year, to make a good, important, and great first impression.

Local benefits

Kelly also said he didn't have statistics yet on the impact on local businesses but pointed out that there were many Brooklyn-based vendors. I'd bet some statistics are coming.

One member of the board's transportation committee noted that "we've sort of looked the other way [about transportation impacts] because of the economic benefit."