BALCONY - Business and Labor Coalition of New York

As Con Con Debate Heats Up, Heastie Declares Opposition

February 22nd, 2017

By Rachel Silberstein

Speaker Heastie, right, & Gov. Cuomo (photo: The Governor’s Office)

While it will be several months before the airwaves are flooded with special interest-backed ad campaigns warning of the potential “dangers” of a constitutional convention, in Albany, legislative leaders are beginning to speak out on the issue.

On Saturday, February 18, at Black and Latino Caucus weekend, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, had one message for labor union leaders: make sure your members vote “no” on the upcoming ballot question. This November, New Yorkers will vote on a referendum whether to call a constitutional convention — an opportunity for the public to “take back state government” and update the antiquated state constitution that occurs once every 20 years.

While a Con Con, as it is often called, would provide a chance for enacting reforms on things like government ethics, term limits for elected officials, modernized voting and voter registration rules, and more, it would open up the entire state constitution to change. To some, including government reform groups and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, this promises an incredible opportunity. To others, like Heastie, it appears too risky.

Like many state and city elected officials who spoke at Saturday’s labor luncheon, Heastie cited threats to progressive institutions posed by President Donald Trump’s administration as he urged union leaders to oppose the convention.

“We are going to need you to remind people that dangerous things can happen,” said Heastie in his remarks. “There are some very wealthy people who want to open up the constitution and really undo some of the protections for labor. We need your help and cooperation to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

If voters approve the convention this November, each of the New York’s 63 state Senate districts will elect three delegates in 2018, triggering a convention for the following year. Any constitutional amendments proposed by a convention would need to be approved by voters before they would take effect.

Heastie’s fear that the convention would be coopted by certain interests has been raised by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. But while Democrats say a convention could lead to the dismantling of labor and environmental protections by conservative interests, Republicans say they are concerned that New York City’s progressive interest groups would dominate the convention.

Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, said, “The convention could be dominated by New York City special interests, which would be disastrous for Upstate, the Hudson Valley and Long Island.”

Like other lawmakers, Flanagan, of Long Island, has also argued that a constitutional convention would cost millions of dollars at a time when New York has other, more pressing needs, and it is unlikely to produce much change.

Flanagan’s position stands in sharp contrast to that of Assembly Minority Leader Kolb, an Upstate Republican who has been on the front lines advocating for a Con Con, and the reforms it might bring, since 2011. In a column earlier this month, Kolb once again laid out the case for a convention, and urged voters to consider a “yes” vote.

“Voter empowerment is part of the very fabric of who we are as a nation,” he wrote. “There is no more effective way to engage the public than a Constitutional Convention, and there is no place that needs it more than Albany.”

The Assembly member — who said he is interested in seeing the elimination of backdoor borrowing and term limits enacted in both houses, among other changes — has spent the last five years campaigning with Con Con advocates like SUNY New Paltz professor Gerald Benjamin and government reform activist Bill Samuels, participating in countless town halls and panel discussions to help get the word out.

“Those who like the way things are, whether it’s the legislature or special interest groups, they’re going to be adamantly opposed to this and that’s just the nature of the beast,” said Kolb. “But people work on fear and people say ‘the sky is falling!’ But it’s all predicated on establishing doubt that it could be worse than what they already have.”

Former State Assembly Ways & Means Chair Arthur “Jerry” Kremer, in a new book analyzing the potential costs and benefits of a convention, writes that in 100 years, only six amendments have been made through the convention and 200 have resulted from individual constitutional amendments. A constitutional amendment requires passage by two consecutive classes of the state Legislature, followed by voter ballot approval the following Election Day.

The last time a constitutional convention was called, in 1967, few changes were made and all those that were introduced were ultimately rejected by the voters. This occurred, at least in part, because many of the Con Con delegates were also elected officials, Kolb says.

While it is against the constitution to prohibit anyone from running as a delegate, Kolb has introduced a bill that would require any elected convention delegate holding political office or certified as a lobbyist to step down from the other positions to serve in that role. “I think that really strengthens a grassroots approach with the delegate selection process,” said Kolb.

Kolb’s concern about the makeup of the delegates is shared by many, including some prominent Democrats, like Governor Andrew Cuomo, as well as government reform groups.

Since his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Cuomo has continued to express support for a convention, but, unlike last year, the issue was notably absent from his 2017 State of the State policy book and his executive budget. However, the governor did propose several reforms, including the codification of Roe v. Wade, same-day voter registration, and limitations on legislators’ outside income, which he says could be done through constitutional amendment. Cuomo has also indicated that a Con Con may be the only way to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform while Republicans continue to control the state Senate.

During a recent meeting with The Daily News editorial board, the governor waffled slightly on his previous position, saying that he conceptually supports the idea of a constitutional convention, but “you have to find a way where the delegates do not wind up being the same legislators who you are trying to change the rules on. I have not heard a plan that does that.”

Even Democratic legislators that are focused on government reform, such as Assemblymember Robert Carroll, newly elected from Brooklyn, and Manhattan Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, have said they are concerned with the delegate selection process, which allows the representatives to be determined based on heavily gerrymandered Senate districts. As a result, reformers fear that that some Republicans might dominate the convention and do away with labor and environmental protections.

Not all Democrats are opposed to the constitutional convention. Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat and longtime advocate for government ethics reform, pushed for a “yes” vote in a June 2016 interview with Effective New York, the think tank founded by Samuels.

“We are in such need of dramatic change in the state that a convention would be a great way to kind of turn the whole thing over and start fresh,” said Gianaris, who also leads the Senate Democrats’ campaign efforts. “It would involve real redistricting reform as opposed to the thing we enacted that won’t achieve the goals we all wanted of a truly independent process. Ethics reforms, including a full-time legislature, pension forfeiture for those convicted of crimes. The list is not short of the things we can do.

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has hesitated to take a formal position on the issue, and did not respond to a request for comment.

The Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) — a breakaway group of Senate Democrats that has formed a ruling coalition with Senate Republicans — came out against the convention earlier this month, citing concerns for labor protections.

Kolb says he’s not worried about how a convention might play out. Regardless of which amendments the delegates propose, the decision would ultimately return to the voters.

“In the end, when I talk to people about it I say, ‘Is New York State working for you?’ And if your hand is up, then you probably won’t vote for the convention,” said Kolb. “But if you think New York State could be better, run more efficiently, run more cost effectively, answer to the people it represents, then here’s an opportunity to see it change.”


Posted under News From our Members

Carlo Scissura Named President and CEO of New York Building Congress

November 18th, 2016

Succeeds Richard T. Anderson Who Expertly Guided the Building Congress for More Than Two Decades

Carlo A. Scissura, a lifelong New Yorker and veteran of Brooklyn politics, business, and economic development, has been named President and CEO of the New York Building Congress.

He will succeed Richard T. Anderson, who has served as President of the New York Building Congress for the past 23 years. Mr. Scissura, who has served as President and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce since 2012, will take over on January 1, 2017. At that time, Mr. Anderson will assume the title of President Emeritus and continue to serve the Building Congress as a consultant.

“Succeeding Dick Anderson, who has been the face of the New York Building Congress for more than two decades, is certainly going to be a challenge, but we are certain that Carlo Scissura is the ideal person to take on this role,” said New York Building Congress Chairman Richard Cavallaro. “A veteran of both the public and private sectors, Carlo has devoted his career to spurring economic growth and development in New York City, and his home borough of Brooklyn in particular.”

Mr. Scissura said, “It is my great honor and privilege to be named President and CEO of the New York Building Congress, one of the most well-respected and influential organizations in the state. The building community is at the center of many of the successes New York has experienced, and it is a driving force behind job creation and a strong economy. As President and CEO, I will work tirelessly to meet the needs of our membership, both private and public, assist in the continued growth of the construction industry, and ensure that the Building Congress remains at the forefront of economic development, policy and legislation in New York and beyond. This organization and its members build New York – from public infrastructure to universities, hospitals and residential and commercial structures – and we will work together to guarantee that all communities benefit from and are a part of the great work of the Building Congress. I am looking forward to a great listening tour with members and partners in the building community, and putting on my ‘hard hat’ to visit some of the amazing projects that our members are involved in! My deepest thanks to Chairman Richard Cavallaro, Vice Chairman and Search Committee Chair Milo Riverso, Current President Richard Anderson, Jack Lusk and the entire Board of Directors.”

“Since 1994, I have had the distinct privilege of serving the design, construction and real estate community and the Building Congress’ members, who are 100 percent dedicated to enhancing the industry and growing New York City’s economy,” said Mr. Anderson. “It is gratifying to know that the organization is in great hands moving forward with Carlo Scissura.”

Under Mr. Scissura’s leadership, the Brooklyn Chamber’s membership has grown by more than 200 percent and is now one of New York’s largest business advocacy and economic development organizations, with over 2,100 members. During his tenure, he oversaw the launch of a number of highly innovative and successful initiatives, including Explore Brooklyn, Brooklyn-Made, and Chamber on the Go, and has received substantial new funding from government agencies and private foundations to support the Chamber’s work. During this historic period of growth, the Chamber’s efforts have been widely recognized as creating national models for business development, outreach and technical assistance, and regional branding.

Prior to joining the Chamber, Mr. Scissura served both as Chief of Staff and General Counsel to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. During his tenure, he focused on restructuring operations at Borough Hall and driving Brooklyn’s economic development agenda. He also served on the Boards of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, and Brooklyn Public Library.

Prior to joining the Borough President’s Office, Mr. Scissura owned a thriving solo practice law firm in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. He previously served on the staffs of State Senator Vincent Gentile and Assemblyman Peter Abbate.

In addition to his professional work, Mr. Scissura has deep roots in community service. During his five years on Community School Board 20 in Brooklyn, he reinvigorated both the Legislative and Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Committees and worked closely with parents and teachers.

He was appointed to the Community Education Council (CEC) for District 20 in 2004, where he served as President and Chairman of the Legislative Committee. During his time at the CEC, Mr. Scissura vigorously advocated increased community and parental involvement, strengthened the cooperation among civic leaders and schools, and continued the relationships built during his years on the school board. He was instrumental in having the School Construction Authority approve the largest capital construction plan for District 20. He also served as a member of Community Board 11.

‎Currently, Mr. Scissura is the President of the Federation of Italian-American Organizations, where he has spearheaded the building of the new Italian Cultural and Community Center, and is the Master of Ceremonies for the Brooklyn Columbus Day Parade. Mr. Scissura has received numerous honors and awards for his work in the community.

The selection of Mr. Scissura is the culmination of a 10-month search led by STV Group President and CEO Milo E. Riverso. The search committee also included: Richard T. Anderson, President of the New York Building Congress; Richard Cavallaro, Chairman of the New York Building Congress and President/CEO of Skanska USA Inc.; Ralph J. Esposito, President of Lend Lease (US) Construction LMB, Inc.; Sharon Greenberger, President/CEO of the YMCA of Greater New York; Maureen A. Henegan, Chair/CEO of Henegan Construction Co., Inc.; Gregory A. Kelly, President/CEO -U.S. of WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff; Gary LaBarbera, President of the Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York; Terrence E. O’Neal, Managing Principal of Terrence O’Neal Architect, LLC; Jonathan D. Resnick, President of Jack Resnick & Sons; Lawrence P. Roman, CEO of WDF, Inc.; Frank J. Sciame, Chairman/CEO of Sciame Construction LLC; Dominick M. Servedio, Executive Chairman of STV Group, Inc.; and Michael S. Zetlin, Senior Partner of Zetlin & DeChiara LLP.


Posted under News From our Members

President-elect Trump needs a partner in Congress

November 13th, 2016

by Jeffrey Lewis

Given the historic election of Donald Trump, it’s easy to miss the true message sent by the electorate. With Republicans winning control of the presidency and Congress, voters signaled a desire for leaders to work together to solve the nation’s most difficult domestic policy problems. That requires Republican leadership in Congress that is serious, focused on action not rhetoric, and understands this historical moment. The first step: the re-election of Paul Ryan as Speaker.

Unlike in 2008, when voters handed relatively unified Democrats control of the Presidency, Senate, and House, President-elect Trump will head a government controlled by various factions of the Republican party. If Republicans have any ambition to make any progress on domestic policy, Mr. Trump and other Republicans need the support of Democrats in Congress to create bipartisan legislative initiatives.

Unlike ObamaCare, where the Democrats passed it without one Republican vote, the future of domestic and foreign policy cannot and should not be purely Republican. The cross fertilization of ideas, strategies and communication are the hallmarks that this nation was built on. A Trump White House and a Republican Congress stand at an important crossroads in history; they must embrace the bipartisanship practiced by former Republican Senators Bob Dole, John Heinz, Bob Packwood, and others who reached across the aisle to build solutions to issues concerning domestic and foreign policy.

Speaker Paul Ryan is a student of history who understands that the past is our teacher. Most people view Paul Ryan as a principled, conservative Republican who is deeply committed to advancing equitable solutions to America’s challenges. On many issues –budget, trade, immigration, poverty and entitlements — he’s demonstrated a willingness to reach across the aisle and put bipartisan policy ahead of partisan politics. He looks at America as one nation.

At worst, a re-elected Speaker Ryan would check the power of a newly elected president by embodying the system of checks and balances our founders enshrined in the Constitution. At best, Mr. Ryan and Mr. Trump would find common ground and forge bipartisan solutions to address our unsustainable entitlement programs, our broken immigration system, and other tough national problems.

Particularly in the area of healthcare, the road ahead is full of gaping holes. Unlike ObamaCare, which was passed without a single Republican vote, solutions to our numerous healthcare challenges demand bipartisan resolutions. Medicare and Medicaid are operating at an unsustainable financial pace; the nation is desperate for a long term care policy that recognizes the needs of middle class retirees and the children of aging parents (mostly women) who often leave work to be caregivers, which results in a severe economic loss to themselves and their families; adolescent mental health has become a national public health crisis; and we still have millions of children going to school hungry.

The humanity of healthcare under the leadership of Speaker Ryan would reflect American values and the needs of American families. Ryan understands how to take the politics out of entitlements to create real solutions.

Equally important is how best to fulfill President-elect Trump’s and other Republicans promise of replacing ObamaCare. The tenets of TrumpCare should be founded on the principle that middle class families are protected, and that providers are paid at market-rate for services not the Medi-Cal rate because it simply drives doctors away from treating patients.

Republicans also have a unique opportunity to address the long term care needs of millions of aging and disabled Americans. Part of this discussion should include how to reward, not penalize, children of aging parents who leave the workforce to care for mom, dad or a disabled child.

Paul Ryan has repeatedly shown a willingness to engage in substantive discussions about the future of America’s healthcare system. If President-elect Trump wants to get past the reflexive “repeal and replace” attitude prevalent within the GOP, he must remain open to Republican reform ideas and strategies to tackle everything from primary care to long term care.

New presidents often talk of their first 100-day agenda. And, many fail. A newly re-elected Speaker Ryan could help a Trump White House build a real, achievable agenda. One that embraces the candidate’s promises, America’s hope and a path forward in tackling some tough economic issues. Leadership, real leadership, will be demonstrated by discussions on tax and entitlement reform.

If the past is any guide, such an opportunity won’t remain open long. But it starts with Speaker Ryan sitting behind President Trump at his first State of the Union speech as he delivers a bipartisan message that, for the first time in decades, brings both parties to their feet.

— Jeffrey Lewis is President and CEO of Legacy Health Endowment, a Turlock -based philanthropy dedicated to creating innovative healthcare solutions for Stanislaus and Merced counties.


Posted under News From our Members

At Trader Joe’s, Good Cheer May Hide Complaints

November 4th, 2016


To explain their infatuation with Trader Joe’s, fans of the offbeat grocery chain typically cite three factors: low prices, an appealing selection of high-end products and, perhaps above all, irrepressibly friendly employees.

The company’s workers are urged to walk customers to any item they couldn’t locate, tear open bags of food for impromptu tastings and accept returns with no questions asked.

That they go the additional step of doing it all with a smile is no accident. John Shields, the longtime chief executive who died two years ago and had personally interviewed prospective managers, once said he eliminated any candidate who didn’t flash a grin within 30 seconds.

Trader Joe’s also backed up its preference for cheerfulness with cash. Workplace experts have praised the company for its “good jobs” strategy of offering generous pay and benefits and recouping the cost through lower turnover and higher sales.

But in recent years, the patina of good cheer has masked growing strife and demoralization in some stores on the East Coast, far from the company’s base in California. A number of workers, known at Trader Joe’s as “crew members,” complain of harsh and arbitrary treatment at the hands of managers, of chronic safety lapses and of an atmosphere of surveillance.

Above all, some employees say they are pressured to appear happy with customers and co-workers, even when that appearance is starkly at odds with what is happening at the store.

“We are committed to maintaining a great and safe environment in which to work,” the company responded. “We promote an open and honest environment that encourages questions, suggestions or concerns to be raised.”

According to an unfair labor practices charge filed on Thursday with a National Labor Relations Board regional office, Thomas Nagle, a longtime employee of the Trader Joe’s store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, was repeatedly reprimanded because managers judged his smile and demeanor to be insufficiently “genuine.” He was fired in September for what the managers described as an overly negative attitude.

The morale issues appear concentrated at some of the company’s largest and busiest stores, including one where a union is trying to organize. Tensions have been heightened, according to several employees, by the pressure to remain upbeat and create a “Wow customer experience,” which is defined in the company handbook as “the feelings a customer gets about our delight that they are shopping with us.”

Still, many employees think of the company fondly, some former crew members say. Maggie Dunham Jordahl, who has worked at three Trader Joe’s stores, said managers were nurturing and helpful.

But in interviews, Mr. Nagle, who recorded several performance reviews with his managers and made the recordings available to The New York Times, described stockrooms piled high with products that fell on workers and harsh fumes that sometimes wafted through the store and sickened workers.

He said managers would typically use the public address system to instruct workers to avoid talking to one another while they stocked shelves. He also said managers appeared to harass workers for the sport of it.

As an example, Mr. Nagle said a manager chastised him over the public address system for returning a sweatshirt to his locker after unloading goods in a freezer. “If anyone’s confused, there’s no product to work in the locker room,” the manager announced, he said.

Mr. Nagle’s filing challenges policies that appear in the Trader Joe’s crew handbook and job bulletins, and which were read aloud to him. One of the latter required employees to maintain a “positive attitude.”

Some labor experts say such policies may be illegal because federal labor law gives employees the right to discuss working conditions and the merits of joining a union with one another, and to complain about working conditions to the public, including customers. Any company rule that an employee would reasonably interpret as discouraging these activities is most likely to be illegal, according to Wilma Liebman, a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board.

In a decision involving T-Mobile earlier this year, the labor relations board struck down a rule in that company’s handbook that said: “Employees are expected to maintain a positive work environment by communicating in a manner that is conducive to effective working relationships.”

For its part, Trader Joe’s said in a statement: “We do not fire crew members for trivial reasons. We pride ourselves on operating our business with integrity and adhering to the law at all times.”

Mr. Nagle said that as conditions deteriorated at his store, workers reached out to organizers at the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, who helped them begin making the case to co-workers for unionizing. The union is providing Mr. Nagle’s legal representation.

Other employees in stores across the Northeast and Middle Atlantic regions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs, echoed Mr. Nagle’s description of stockroom hazards and managers’ behavior. A former worker in Brooklyn said that if two workers spoke to one another for more than a minute or two while on the job, often a manager would appear and ask, “What’s going on?”

Gammy Alvarez, who works at the Manhattan store where Mr. Nagle did, described being reprimanded for sipping water while working at the checkout because, a manager said, she was taking too long between customers.

Workers at two other stores, including one in Brooklyn, said that good employees who committed minor infractions or asked managers legitimate questions disappeared with no explanation. Weeks or months later, their co-workers learned they had been fired.

The treatment, which may not be unusual for the retail sector, is at odds with Trader Joe’s reputation for positivity, and with the image the company takes pains to project.

Managers were determined to have employees remain cheery with colleagues as well their customers. Mr. Nagle’s girlfriend, Vanessa Erbe, also worked in the store and said she once gently complained to a manager about being stranded at a demonstration stand for 20 minutes after her eight-hour shift ended. The next day, a second manager asked her to write the first manager a letter of apology. “It was demoralizing,” she said.

Transcripts of three of Mr. Nagle’s semiannual performance reviews leading to his ouster, after nearly three years of what he said were positive reviews, show managers praising his aptitude for the work but criticizing him for not being friendly enough with co-workers or customers.

After one review in which a manager said he was making “little effort in executing Trader Joe’s processes,” Mr. Nagle asked for an example. A second manager responded: “I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen you like genuinely smile.”

In Mr. Nagle’s final review before he was fired, he was criticized for not greeting a manager with sufficient feeling. “It’s not like, ‘Hey what’s going on,’ it’s like ‘Heh,’” the manager said. Mr. Nagle said that when he asked if the manager if he wanted a longer acknowledgment, he responded, “Yeah, but it’s got to be genuine. You have to want to be here.”

Mr. Nagle said that his work ethic never flagged — which his co-worker Ms. Alvarez affirmed — though he conceded he became more terse with managers as they largely ignored workers’ pleas to address the increasingly difficult work environment.

Mr. Nagle’s managers seemed to view him as one of the keys to his colleagues’ morale. “You have a lot of influence over the mood of the store,” a manager told him during a review. “Work to create a more fun and energetic experience for both our customers and your fellow crew.”

Trader Joe’s began in Pasadena, Calif., in 1967 as a convenience store that sold a variety of provisions, including deeply discounted wine. It later added health and gourmet food.

As the chain expanded to more than 150 stores across the country by the early 2000s, the founder Joseph H. Coulombe and his successor as chief executive, Mr. Shields, were adamant about preserving its quirky neighborhood vibe.

But with more than 400 stores generating over $10 billion in sales, according to estimates, the company culture appears to have evolved from an aspiration that could be nurtured organically to a tool that can be used to enforce discipline and stifle criticism.

“The environment in this job is toxic, but they’re trying to create this whole false idea that everything is cheery and bubbly,” Ms. Alvarez said. “I think they want us to be not real people.”


Posted under News From our Members

Teachers union says new federal regulations are not a ‘real partnership’

July 20th, 2016

By Keshia Clukey

ALBANY – Federal regulations tied to the new Every Student Succeeds Act are a “top-down, federally driven” approach, not a “real partnership,” as was intended, the state’s largest teachers union says.

On Tuesday, New York State United Teachers submitted comments to the U.S. Education Department on the draft regulations in the hope that the department will make changes. The submission deadline is Aug. 1.

ESSA, passed in December, replaced the broad federal No Child Left Behind Act and was initially seen as providing states more flexibility regarding assessments and accountability.

Regulations which the federal education department have proposed in conjunction with the law have come under fire, with stakeholders questioning whether they hampered the flexibility the law gave to states. NYSUT and U.S. education secretary John King have a particularly acrimonious relationship going back to his days as education commissioner in New York. The union called for his removal in New York and protested his appointment as U.S. education secretary.

The union and advocacy groups in New York are particularly concerned about participation rate requirements. The law still requires 95 percent participation rate on state standardized tests, but under the regulations, schools and the state could essentially be rated lower if they don’t meet the requirements and potentially face penalties.

That would be an issue in New York, because the state in 2015 had one of the highest test refusals in the nation, with 20 percent of students opting out of state standardized, Common Core-aligned math and English language arts exams. Spring 2016 numbers have not yet been released.

The union suggested deleting the section in the regulations.

The union also expressed concern over the implementation timeline, which requires states to begin identifying schools under their new accountability plans by 2017-18. The timeline limits the ability of states to develop “thoughtful” systems, according to the letter.

“The draft rules as highlighted do not reflect ESSA and the promise of the law,” NYSUT President Karen Magee said in the letter. “Unfortunately, in several areas the draft rules embrace a test, rank, and punish system of school accountability.”

Read the full letter here:

To view online:


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New York Public Hospitals Use Emojis to Reach Young People About Sex

July 18th, 2016


The birds and the bees are no longer confined to uncomfortable living-room conversations. They will start popping up as emojis in teenagers’ Facebook feeds on Monday.

Eggplant and peach emojis will appear with the words: “Need to talk to someone about ‘it’?” A monkey emoji with its hands over its mouth will offer advice on how to get confidential access to emergency contraception.

The social media posts are part of a campaign by NYC Health & Hospitals to reach young people ages 12 to 21 and encourage them to seek confidential care for sexual and reproductive health, like testing for sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, at one of the 20 YouthHealth centers across the five boroughs.

The public hospital system’s messages on Facebook and Instagram will direct readers to a new Health & Hospitals website. The website maps out the locations of all the YouthHealth services sites in New York City and reminds young people that they can get health care services regardless of ability to pay, immigration status, gender identity or sexual orientation.

“We’re taking away all of the excuses for adolescents not to enroll in health care,” said Dr. Warren Seigel, the chairman of the department of pediatrics and director of adolescent medicine at Coney Island Hospital.

The campaign was created in part to increase the number of teenagers who take advantage of care offered by Health & Hospitals, particularly confidential walk-in treatment, Richard Zapata, the outreach and education manager for population health, said.

Health & Hospitals saw 152,000 adolescent patients last year. More than 38,000 were tested for sexually transmitted diseases, 30,000 were tested for pregnancy and about 2,400 gave birth, according to a news release from the system.

Under state law, children do not need parental permission for certain sexual, reproductive and mental health care services. But many New York teenagers are unaware of this confidential access, Mr. Zapata said.

“Most of the facilities were saying they could see more young people,” Mr. Zapata added.

And when it came to sex, teenagers in focus groups said they did not turn to their parents for information, Mr. Zapata said.

“It’s hard to talk to someone about pregnancy testing,” Mr. Zapata said. “Those conversations aren’t really happening that much at home.”

Dr. Seigel said his patients came from diverse cultures and places, including Latin America and Southeast and Central Asia.

“Because of their parents’ religious and cultural background, teenagers are not encouraged at home to talk about their sexual health,” Dr. Seigel said.

Many of his patients are going through puberty, Dr. Seigel said, and they ask him questions they might be uncomfortable asking their parents.

“It can be something as simple as, ‘Why is this growing, why isn’t this growing?’” Dr. Seigel said. He also said he heard comments like, “Does this mean I’m gay or lesbian?” or “I’m thinking of having sex but I’m not so sure.”

Elizabeth Schroeder, a sexuality educator, trainer and consultant, said she was thrilled to see a major health system talking about sexual health with young people. She worried, though, that the messages might not be clear to teenagers who are learning English as a second language.

“The question is whether these are the images that will get the most attention,” she said of the emojis.“I wonder whether younger people even get the language of the birds and the bees.”

But Mr. Zapata said teenagers in focus groups insisted the symbolism would grab their attention.

“They were like, ‘This is it,’” Mr. Zapata said. “‘This is the way we’re talking.’”


Posted under News From our Members

Greater New York Chamber of Commerce Celebrates Women’s History Month

March 22nd, 2016


On Friday March 18th the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce (GNYCC) hosted a celebration of Women’s History Month at the Hard Rock Cafe.

The event was emceed by Greater New York Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Jaffe and GNYCC Chairman Cynthia DiBartolo. The event was attended by 75+ leaders from the New York business and labor community and honored Kathy Hochul, NYS Lieutenant Governor; Beth Goldberg, District Director of the Us Small Business Administration; Major Kimbia Rey, US ARMY; Vicki Saunders, Founder of SheEO; and Waffa Abboud, Founder and CEO of Human First.


Posted under News From our Members


March 10th, 2016

The Broadway Education Alliance, the fiscal sponsor for the Gershwin Awards, announced today that the program has been renamed The Roger Rees Awards for Excellence in Student Performance—to celebrate the exceptional life and career-long artistic excellence of Broadway’s beloved actor, Roger Rees. Formerly known as The Gershwin Awards, the 2015-2016 Roger Rees Award for Excellence in Student Performance will be held on Sunday, May 22 at the Beacon School in Manhattan.

Read the details here: Roger Rees Awards


Posted under News From our Members

Department of Transportation Commissioner Matthew J. Driscoll Discusses Major Projects and Infrastructure Improvements Underway

March 10th, 2016

New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Matthew J. Driscoll was the featured speaker on March 3 at a New York Building Congress Construction Industry Breakfast Forum, which also featured remarks from Jessica Lappin, President of the Alliance for Downtown New York.

Highlighting major infrastructure projects to the crowd of nearly 350 professionals from the design, construction, and real estate industry, Commissioner Driscoll called it an exciting time for New York City as well as the State as a whole. He provided updates on several key initiatives, including Governor Andrew Cuomo’s $100 million infrastructure investment program, stating, “This plan will modernize the State’s public transportation systems – freight, rail and ports, airports and roads and bridges – to meet the needs of the new global economy and enhance New York’s position as the Empire State.” These projects include a comprehensive redesign of LaGuardia Airport, expansion of the Jacob Javits Convention Center, and transformation of Penn Station and the historic Farley Post Office.

Commissioner Driscoll also detailed the Governor’s budget proposal, which includes multiple projects to improve New York State’s bridges, roads, and infrastructure in the face of extreme weather conditions. On the local level, DOT is currently providing technical assistance, guidance, and oversight for $2.9 billion in locally administered, federally aided projects under construction in New York City.

Stressing the importance of alternative forms of project delivery, Commissioner Driscoll discussed the use of the design-build method and public-private partnerships. He praised the Building Congress for its support of innovative project delivery, telling the audience, “You have always been at the forefront of support for innovative project delivery, and you were instrumental in the passage of the 2011 Infrastructure Investment Act, which provided authorization for the DOT to utilize the design-build method.” Since receiving authorization, he said the State has awarded 23 design-build contracts valued at a little over $1 billion, calling the results overwhelmingly positive.

Commissioner Driscoll provided an update on DOT projects currently underway in the City, which he said total about $1.8 billion. These projects include: the building of the new Kosciuszko Bridge; rehabilitation of stretches of the Major Deegan Expressway; HOV-lane extensions on the Staten Island Expressway; safety improvements to the Gowanus Expressway; operational enhancements to the Kew Gardens Interchange; rehabilitation of bridge structures on the Cross Bronx Expressway; and replacement of concrete decks on the Bruckner Expressway. The Commissioner also talked about plans for Long Island, including bridge replacements and reconstruction of roadways, as well as the Governor’s plan to build a tunnel connecting Long Island to Connecticut.

In closing, Commissioner Driscoll emphasized the DOT’s goal of streamlining processes to deliver projects faster and more efficiently, the Governor’s support of the Department and the use of design-build and public-private partnerships, and his commitment to maintaining a partnership with the building community. He stated, “The support of this Building Congress is essential, and I can’t say that enough, particularly in helping to demonstrate how strategic infrastructure investment really does spur economic growth and creates a true 21st century transportation network.”

During her remarks, Jessica Lappin described the opening of the Santiago Calatrava-designed World Trade Center Transportation Hub as an impressive feat of engineering and a testament to hard work and human spirit. She stated, “This Hub will ultimately prove that the public sector can and should aspire to design greatness. Daring design and ambitious public works have tangible economic rewards, but they also add to our quality of life.” She discussed how the station, along with Fulton Street Transit Center, will for the first time connect the PATH train and 11 subway lines underground. Ms. Lappin talked about the economic impact of the Hub, telling the crowd that there will be 350,000 square feet of shops and restaurants surrounding the Hub, which are expected to generate close to $1 billion in sales every year.


Mayor Presses Feds to Let City Offer Savings Plan to Private Employees

March 1st, 2016


Mayor de Blasio Feb. 25 asked the Federal Government to allow New York to become the first American city to sponsor a private-sector retirement-savings plan. His proposal, first announced during his State of the City address last month, would create a savings account for workers who aren’t enrolled in pension plans.
“Working people of New York City should be able to retire in comfort and in the city they love,” the Mayor said. “Our message to working people should not be: work your whole lives and end up with nothing.’”

Who Would Be Covered

Under the administration’s plan, everyone at a work¬place with at least 10 employees would be automatically enrolled. The workers would have contributions deducted from their paychecks, but could opt out or change their pay rates.

Neither an employer nor the city would contribute, though the de Blasio administration proposed to create a board to establish and manage the program. It would also institute safeguards to prevent companies from replacing their own programs with the city-managed plan.

Only 43 percent of working New Yorkers currently have access to a retirement-savings plan, and those who do sometimes pay hefty fees because they lack the leverage of large collectively-funded systems, according to the Mayor’s Office. Additionally, two of every five New Yorkers between 50 and 64 years old have less than $10,000 saved up.

The U.S. Department of Labor in November issued draft regulations to create exemptions in Federal laws to allow state-sponsored IRAs that follow certain rules. Mr. de Blasio said his office sent comments to the Obama Administration asking that cities be permitted to create similar programs without liability or burdensome requirements.

The Mayor said he believed the proposal was consistent with President Obama’s philosophy of economically boosting working-class Americans, but city officials said they would await the Federal Government’s response before developing a specific plan.

Ruling Later This Year?

John Adler, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Pensions and Investments, said he expected the Labor Department to rule by the end of the year. But he warned that the city wouldn’t underwrite any return-on-investment or the initial principal in the event of a financial catastrophe. There are no guarantees,” he said.
The city’s highest-ranking officials—including Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito—joined Mr. de Blasio at the press conference at the City Hall rotunda. Though all identify to varying degrees as progressive allies of the Mayor, they rarely appear as a group.

But they have each tackled the issue. Last year, Ms. James issued a policy paper demonstrating the challenges for aging New Yorkers and Mr. Stringer impaneled a “study group” to develop solutions. Ms. Mark-Viverito said the Council has already drafted legislation ready to be introduced over the next several weeks and adapted to fit the Federal Government’s requirements.

Has AARP, Union Backing

The proposal was backed by AARP as well as business, financial-services and labor leaders.
“This is an area where the public and private sector can work together,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. “We applaud Mayor de Blasio, the Speaker and the Public Advocate for bringing us together to help private-sector employees achieve retirement security.”

Mr. Stringer, whose office manages the $160-billion pension systems that cover the city’s employees and retirees, said the plan would reduce the strain on city spending for low-income seniors. “While we also want to protect the broader financial health of the city, we recognize that when people retire without enough savings, the city has to pick up the tab and increase spending on social services,” he said.
He added that he “couldn’t imagine” not being included in the final proposal.

Some states have taken steps to establish similar systems, though none have launched them. Mr. de Blasio—who is feuding with Governor Cuomo and has had his legislative priorities blunted by opposition from Albany lawmakers—said the city was large enough to warrant its own fund and discounted reaching out to the state to develop a system.

“There are some states—many states in fact—where their state governments do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of their cities, where you might have a city willing to do something where a state government would not,” the Mayor said.