State of the City: Mayor Bill de Blasio pitches retirement fund for private-sector workers

NEW YORK -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to make life better for workers, tenants, retirees, and even near-sighted first-graders in a wide-ranging State of the City speech Thursday.

"Imagine a city where New Yorkers can live their lives more fully," de Blasio told a cheering audience at Symphony Space in Manhattan. "That's the quality of life I want for every New Yorker."

The Democratic mayor said he would create a city-managed retirement fund for workers who lack access to employer-sponsored funds as well as a new Office to Protect Tenants.

He also promised to provide free glasses to any kindergartner and first-grader who needs them and to rebrand the city Department of Consumer Affairs as the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.

The new proposals come after De Blasio unveiled plans earlier in the week to expand health coverage for low-income New Yorkers and mandate paid vacation days for private-sector workers.

The second-term mayor said millions of Americans are "boxed into lives that just aren't working" because of Republican policies like tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations.

"Brothers and sisters, there's plenty of money in the world," de Blasio said. "Plenty of money in this city. It's just in the wrong hands. You deserve a city that gives you the share of prosperity that you've earned."

The plan to create a city-managed retirement fund has been proposed previously and would have to be passed by the City Council.

De Blasio said half of the city's workers don't have employer-sponsored retirement plans. Under his proposal, he said, those employees will be able to invest a portion of their paycheck into a city-managed fund and carry it from job to job. "If you've spent your lifetime working, you've paid your dues," he said.

De Blasio signed an executive order creating the Office to Protect Tenants on the spot and vowed that the office would root out landlord abuse. "If fines and penalties don't cut it, we will seize their buildings and we will put them into the hands of a nonprofit that will treat tenants with the respect they deserve," he said.

The initiative to provide free glasses is an expansion of an existing partnership with eyewear maker Warby Parker that provides free eye exams and glasses in more than 200 schools.

De Blasio said the renamed Department of Consumer and Worker Protection will be charged with protecting the rights of nannies, home health aides, freelancers and others who work without benefits or traditional job protections.

"Whether you're an employee or a temp, whether you're paid by check or cash, whether you're documented or not, if you work in New York City, then we work for you," he said.

De Blasio, who campaigned in 2013 on a promise to offer prekindergarten to every 4-year-old in the city, has sought to position himself as a national progressive leader. But some of his fellow liberal Democrats in New York have criticized him for his enthusiastic embrace of Amazon, which is getting $2.8 billion in tax breaks and grants from the state and city to build a secondary headquarters in New York.

The mayor said Thursday that decisions by Amazon and Google to expand their presence in the city prove that "the world's most innovative companies want to be here and want to hire New Yorkers."

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