BALCONY - Business and Labor Coalition of New York

New Union Contract for New York City Area Airports Does Not Cover Wages

December 16th, 2016


After seven months of negotiations, thousands of airport workers in New York and New Jersey have come to terms on their first union contract. But it does not address an impending anomaly that will leave workers on opposite sides of the Hudson River earning different pay for doing the same work.

The union that organized the workers, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, reached a deal on Thursday with 11 companies that provide services at the three major airports that serve New York City. The proposed contract would give the workers greater job security and more regular schedules, among other improvements in their working conditions.

But the contract does not cover the terms usually considered most important in a labor deal: wages and benefits. That omission is a product of the complex hierarchy at the airports, which are operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

By not addressing pay, the contract highlights a quirk to be ushered in on Dec. 31, when the minimum wage for all workers in New York City will rise to $11 an hour from $9. That increase will raise the minimum wage for workers at La Guardia Airport and Kennedy International Airport from the hourly minimum of $10.10 that the Port Authority requires that employees at its facilities be paid.

But workers at Newark Liberty International Airport will not get an increase from the $10.10 they now earn. That is because the Port Authority has agreed to raise the minimum wage at its facilities to match the prevailing minimum where they are. New Jersey’s minimum wage is set to rise on Jan. 1 to $8.44 an hour from $8.38 an hour.

The gap could widen in the next few years. New York plans to gradually raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour, while New Jersey’s minimum is set to rise only to cover cost of living increases.

“I don’t think it’s fair that a New York worker can get $15 doing the exact same job that I do and I don’t get $15,” said Broderick Cooper, who has worked as a skycap at Newark Liberty for 27 years. “It’s not the Port Authority of New York or New Jersey, it’s the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.”

But Mr. Cooper, a 45-year-old resident of Hillside, N.J., said he was pleased to have his first union contract to vote on. “This finally gains a level of respect for a lot of the common workers,” he said, adding that the agreement would yield “fairness and fair scheduling, fair breaks and no unfair workloads.”

He and about 8,000 other members are scheduled to vote to ratify the contract before Christmas, which is likely to head off a threat that they might strike amid the busy holiday travel season, said Hector Figueroa, president of Local 32BJ.

“This is a very good first step in the campaign for 15 and a union,” Mr. Figueroa said in an interview, referring to the national Fight for 15 movement started by fast-food workers in Manhattan who demanded union representation and a $15 hourly minimum wage.

That campaign has yielded disparate results across the country. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, embraced it and pushed lawmakers to adopt a schedule for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in New York City and surrounding suburbs by 2019 and to at least $12.50 an hour upstate by 2021.

Fast-food workers in New York are on a path to the $15 an hour minimum wage they sought, but they are not unionized. And airport workers in Newark have a union contract but no path to a $15 minimum wage.

For years, Local 32BJ has shepherded dozens of members to the Port Authority’s monthly board meetings to demand increases in the minimum wage for all workers at the airports. Mr. Figueroa said the union would continue to press the board to raise the agency’s mandated minimum wage to at least $15.

That appears unlikely to happen while John J. Degnan is the board chairman. Mr. Degnan was appointed by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican who vetoed legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, and he has been clear in his opposition to telling employers how much to pay their workers.

At a Port Authority board meeting on Sept. 22, Mr. Degnan laid out the complications of setting pay at the airports: “These are not our employees,” he said. “These are employees of subcontractors of entities who do business with airlines with whom we do business. It’s about three tiers below.”


A pro-music coalition calls for state to pass industry tax credit

November 24th, 2016

Governor has until Nov. 28 to sign the Empire State Music Production Tax Credit into law

by Addie Morfoot

A coalition of music businesses called for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign a music tax credit into law before a Nov. 28 deadline. Its effort was partly a response to a letter to Cuomo from a policy watchdog a week earlier questioning the benefit to the state of the tax break.

In June, the Senate and Assembly approved the Empire State Music Production Tax Credit, which would provide a 25% tax break for eligible music-production-related costs in downstate counties and a 35% credit for upstate production. The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, D-North Brooklyn, and Sen. Martin Golden, R-C-I, Brooklyn, allocates $25 million per year to each program, for a total of $50 million annually.

To be eligible for the tax incentive, companies must produce 75% of their project in New York state. Production costs under the credit’s provisions include below-the-line fees like studio rental fees, mixing, session-musician salaries, engineering and mastering services. Under both programs, all costs eligible for the credit must be incurred and paid in New York state.

New York Is Music, a coalition of 200-plus music-related organizations, has worked to pass the incentive since 2014. It analyzed more than 1,400 recording sessions covering the top-selling albums made between 1999 and 2014 and reported that New York state’s share of the projects had fallen by almost 50%. Local 802 Associated Musicians of Greater New York also reported that work has fallen approximately 30% in the past decade.

“We believe acknowledgment and support of music recording and production by the New York state government will have a profound effect on the growth and sustainability of a robust music ecology statewide,” said Bill Harvey, co-founder of New York Is Music.

“For too long we have all watched as iconic recording studios, retail outlets and other businesses necessary for a healthy New York music economy have shuttered,” said Recording Industry Association of America Chairman and CEO Cary Sherman in a statement. “Jobs have been lost to other countries, other states or lost altogether. That’s a shame and an outrage. New York once was—and should again be—a vibrant epicenter of music.… This legislation provides an opportunity for New York to regain its footing and reclaim its status as an economic engine of music industry growth. We urge Governor Cuomo to sign this vital bill into law.”

The Citizens Budget Commission does not share the coalition’s positive view of the bill. CBC’s president, Carol Kellermann, sent a letter to Cuomo on Nov. 17, a day after the bill was formally delivered to him for final consideration. Kellermann reminded Cuomo that when the film tax credit program was originally adopted in 2004, it was capped at $25 million per year before growing to its current $420 million annual budget.

“If adopted, there will be pressure to continue expanding the music and digital gaming credits as well, despite evidence that these types of narrowly focused tax credits do not provide a return on investment and should be curtailed, not expanded,” she wrote.

If Cuomo signs the bill on Monday, it will go into effect immediately and will sunset on Dec. 31, 2019.


DC37 membership ratifies CUNY contract

July 18th, 2016

By Conor Skelding

The City University of New York employees represented by District Council 37 have voted to approve a contract deal with the university, the union announced Monday.

DC37 represents about 12,000 non-professional university employees. According to the union, 4,346 voted for the contract and 65 against it.

“Our CUNY members’ overwhelming vote of approval shows widespread support for this hard fought pact,” said DC37 executive director Henry Garrido in a statement.

In early June, DC37 and the university reached a deal that included 10.41 percent compounded raises retroactive to 2009. The university trustees approved it later that month.
The membership of the Professional Staff Congress, which represents over 25,000 professors and professional staff, is currently voting on its own tentative agreement. Its referendum will end August 3.

To view online:


Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association et al.

July 1st, 2016

Supreme Court Denies Friedrichs Petition for Rehearing

On June 28th, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition from nine California public school teachers to rehear their First Amendment challenge to mandatory union fees. The plaintiffs petitioned the Court to rehear their case after a 4-4 decision was issued in the wake of Justice Scalia’s death. When the split decision was issued, it was not accompanied by an opinion on the merits of the argument. All that was issued was a one-line statement that the decision was split 4-4. Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, the non-profit public interest law firm representing the teachers issued the following statement about today’s decision:

“We are greatly disappointed in today’s decision denying our petition for rehearing in Friedrichs v. California Teacher’s Association. Today’s decision was not a decision on the merits of our case nor was it accompanied by an opinion. We continue to believe that forcing individuals to subsidize political speech with which they disagree violates the First Amendment. We will look for opportunities to challenge compulsory union dues laws in other cases and continue our efforts to stand up for the rights of of teachers and public sector workers across the country.”

Rebecca Friedrichs, the lead plaintiff in the case, also shared her thoughts on this morning’s decision:

“My heart is broken for America’s children and families, as their teachers will continue to be forced to fund policies and highly political collective bargaining processes which place the desires of adults above the rights and needs of children. I am grateful to the thousands of teachers and parents who have stood beside my fellow plaintiffs and me. We have accomplished much and brought national attention to an issue that strikes at the heart of every American’s right to free speech. This battle for liberty cannot be abandoned, and we’ve built an incredible network, so I’m optimistic we can continue working together to restore First Amendment rights to teachers and other public sector workers. Our kids are worth the fight!”

CIR is representing nine California teachers and the Christian Educators Association International in a landmark effort to re-establish the right of individual teachers and other public employees to decide for themselves whether to join and support a union. The suit claims state “agency shop” laws, which require public employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment, violate well-settled principles of freedom of speech and association. While many teachers support the union, others do not and the state cannot constitutionally compel an individual to join and financially support an organization with which he or she disagrees.

Collective Bargaining is Inherently political

Typically, California teacher union dues cost upwards of a $1,000 per year. Although California law allows teachers to opt-out of the thirty percent or so of their dues devoted to overt political lobbying, they may not opt out of the sixty to seventy percent of their dues the union determines is devoted to collective bargaining. Requiring teachers to pay these “agency fees” assumes that collective bargaining is non-political. But bargaining with local governments is inherently political. Whether the union is negotiating for specific class sizes or pressing a local government to spend tax dollars on teacher pensions rather than on building parks, the union’s negotiating positions embody political choices that are often controversial.

Political Opt-Out is Burdensome

To opt out of the thirty percent of their dues that even the union concedes is used for overtly political activities, teachers must must file for a refund each year according to a precise procedure that effectively discourages its use. As a result, many teachers contribute hundreds of dollars in dues each year to support political positions in a variety of areas having nothing to do with education and with which many of them disagree.

For example, the CTA spent over $211 million in political expenditures from 2000 through 2009. CTA’s largest single expenditure (over $26 million) was made to successfully oppose Proposition 38 on the November, 2000 ballot, which would have enacted a school-voucher system in California (and thereby increased the potential employment pool for teachers). CTA also spent over $50 million to oppose three ballot initiatives in 2005, including Proposition 74, which sought to make changes in the probationary period for California school teachers; Proposition 75, which sought to prohibit the use of public employee agency fees for political contributions without individual employees’ prior consent; and Proposition 76, concerning state spending and minimum school-funding requirements.

Case Speeds to Supreme Court

On June 30th, the Supreme Court granted CIR’s petition asking it to review the case. Over 25 organizations filed amicus briefs in support of CIR’s efforts at the Supreme Court. Oral arguments were held on January 11, 2016.

The speed with which the case moved through the lower courts reflected a deliberate litigation strategy. From the beginning, CIR argued that the lower courts do not have the authority to overturn existing Supreme Court precedent. As a result, we asked the trial court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to decide against our clients on the basis of the pleadings (without trial or oral argument) so as to send the case on to the Supreme Court as quickly as possible. The Supreme Court is the only forum that can vindicate the First Amendment rights of our clients and other teachers.

Case Status: Tied by an equally divided Supreme Court.


Housing activists ramp up campaign against affordable housing developers

June 24th, 2016

By Sally Goldenberg

An activist group that has long criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan is targeting an affordable housing association with a barrage of attacks and a call for all elected officials not to accept campaign contributions from the association.

New York Communities for Change has launched a push to publicly shame the New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH), arguing that the trade organization is responsible for gentrification and the city should rely on nonprofit developers as it increases the stock of below-market-rate housing.
NYSAFAH counts both for-profit and nonprofit developers of below-market-rate housing among its membership, according to its website.

The new campaign, known as “The Real Gentrifiers of NYC,” recently protested outside the Greenwich, Conn., home of a leading for-profit developer of low- and middle-income housing in the city – Ron Moelis of L+M Development Partners.

Moelis is a member of NYSAFAH and a prolific developer. He currently is building the massive Essex Crossing complex on the Lower East Side.

He previously has been the target of construction unions over his preference for non-union workers who work for lower wages.

“NYSAFAH developers often act like the Koch brothers and try to buy elections as a way to rig housing and development policy in their favor. We plan to turn the 2017 election cycle into a major referendum on NYSAFAH developers and the most extreme consequences of their gentrification playbook in our city,” Renata Pumarol, who works for New York Communities for Change, said in a prepared statement.

“Our message is very simple: electoral candidates, especially those who represent and care about low-income communities of color, should think twice before accepting money from NYSAFAH developers,” she added. The group did not have research compiled on exactly how much money the housing association has donated to political campaigns in recent years.

New York Communities for Change also started a website to chronicle its campaign. The site will feature negative profiles of developers – “a rogues’ gallery of greedy bad actors who maximize profit on the backs of poor people of color,” in the words of a press release from the group.

“This is yet another misleading political attack orchestrated by construction unions seeking to increase their market share,” a spokesman for NYSAFAH said. “Their irrational campaign targets those who are already addressing New York’s urgent housing crisis rather than pursuing efforts to create new affordable units. NYSAFAH remains undeterred and our members will continue building more of the low-income housing New Yorkers need.”

The push may seem contradictory: affordable housing advocates slamming the state’s most prominent association of affordable housing developers.

But New York Communities for Change – a spin-off of the now-defunct organization ACORN – has argued for several years that affordable housing built in concert with the de Blasio administration is hurting low-income communities instead of helping them.

The argument, which mirrors a broader criticism of the mayor’s housing plan, is that by aggressively constructing new development in poor neighborhoods, builders are making those areas more attractive to market-rate developers, and eventually long-time residents will be priced out. While NYSAFAH’s members build apartments at below the market rate, the units are available to a range of tenants, some of whom are very poor and others who would be regarded as middle class.

The counterargument from de Blasio and his supporters is that every corner of New York City is being gentrified, and ensuring that some of the new housing is reserved for low-income tenants is the only way to protect them.

Moelis and other for-profit housing developers set their rents based in large part on government subsidies: The more money they receive from the city’s housing agency, the more they can build. Less subsidy means either fewer units or higher rents, because the projects must be cleared for financing from outside lenders.
New York Communities for Change has previously partnered with the city’s construction unions in opposing aspects of the mayor’s housing plan and the trades are likely to join this push as well, a source familiar with the effort said. Photographs from the rally outside Moelis’s house show signs that made reference to “wage theft” and “good union jobs.”


NYS AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento’s Statement on Assembly Passage of the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act

June 17th, 2016

Albany, NY – “Tuesday was a historic day. For years, the New York State AFL-CIO has been fighting for safe nurse-to-patient ratios in our hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Nurses have told their stories over and over about the challenges they face trying to provide the highest quality care possible under stressful working conditions that include inadequate staffing levels. Improving patient safety took a giant step forward with the Assembly passage of the “Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act.” We applaud Speaker Carl Heastie, Assemblymember Aileen Gunther, Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried and the Assembly Majority for taking the lead toward ensuring our hospitals are properly staffed to allow nurses to provide the best care possible while improving patient outcomes.

We will continue to raise awareness about safe staffing levels until this common sense legislation becomes law.”

*** The New York State AFL-CIO is a federation of 3,000 affiliated public sector, private sector, and building trades unions throughout the state representing 2.5 million members, retirees and their families.

A Few More Vegetables and a Little Less Meat May Reduce Diabetes Risk

June 16th, 2016


You don’t have to be a vegetarian to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet.

New research shows that eating a few extra servings of healthy plant-based foods each day and slightly reducing animal-based foods like meat and dairy products can significantly lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes.

The findings are based on an analysis of the eating patterns of 200,000 men and women from three long-term studies who reported on their diets repeatedly over the course of two decades, and were published this week in PLOS Medicine.

The studies — the Nurses’ Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study 2 and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study — asked participants to fill out more than 100 detailed questions about their eating habits. They provided information not just about the foods they ate but about how the food was prepared and even what cooking oils were used.

While self-reported dietary information can be flawed, extra steps were taken to confirm the data. Participants completed questionnaires every two to four years, and the nutrient intake information was compared to tests of blood biomarkers to make sure they matched up. The results were also adjusted, or modified, to account for other characteristics that contribute to Type 2 diabetes, like being overweight.

The research was also unusual in that it distinguished between healthful and unhealthful plant-based foods. Healthful plant-based foods include whole grains, fruits, vegetables nuts, seed and legumes, while an unhealthful plant-based diet could include refined carbohydrates like bagels and muffins, starchy vegetables like potatoes and French fries and sugary foods like cake and cola. Animal-based foods include meat of all kinds, fish and seafood as well as eggs, dairy products and animal fats like butter.

On average, adults who ate a plant-based diet with few animal products cut their risk of Type 2 diabetes by 20 percent. But when researchers distinguished between healthful and unhealthful plant-based foods, they found that diabetes risk dropped by 34 percent among the healthful plant-based eaters. Notably, there wasn’t a benefit to plant-based eating when a person consumed a lot of refined carbohydrates and starchy vegetables. In that case, a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increased slightly.

While most American adults are omnivores, eating from many different food sources, and few are vegetarian, the research suggests that simply reducing the amount of animal-based food you eat from five or six servings a day to about four servings a day can lower the incidence of Type 2 diabetes. When people make these changes in diet, they usually cut back on red meat and processed meats and substitute healthier plant-based foods, including protein-rich ones like nuts, seeds and legumes, said Frank Hu, the study’s senior author and a professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“What we’re talking about is a moderate shift – replacing one or two servings of animal food a day with one or two plant-based foods,” said Dr. Hu. “We’re not talking about a dramatic change from being a carnivore to being vegan or even vegetarian – we’re talking about a small shift, that’s doable for most people. You can still include some meat, but not have it in the center of the plate.”

Good plant-based foods are known to be rich in fiber, antioxidants, good fats and a wide array of micronutrients, and have been shown to improve glucose metabolism and lower inflammatory markers. But scientists say they also help promote the good-for-you bacteria that live in your gut.

“When we ingest food, we’re feeding ourselves, but we’re also feeding the bacteria in our gut,” said Dr. Hu. “If you switch from an animal-based dietary pattern to a plant-based pattern, after a while – I don’t know how long it would take, a few weeks or months – the type of bacteria will also change.”

The bacteria in the gut use components of plant-based foods like fiber for their own survival and growth. These components are metabolized by the intestinal bacteria, and the end products are short-chain fatty acids, which have been shown to have beneficial effects on inflammation, insulin resistance and overall metabolism. They also may send a satiety signal to the brain, so people feel fuller.

When you eat refined carbohydrates and have less fiber in the diet, the healthy bacteria that metabolize fiber will be reduced, “so you won’t have the short-chain fatty acids that would have beneficial effects in your body,” Dr. Hu said.


Why It’s Not Time to Panic About Cellphones and Cancer

June 1st, 2016

by Aaron E. Carroll

Recently, I lost a day at work when my Upshot colleague Austin Frakt emailed me first thing in the morning to tell me that headlines were appearing declaring that an “explosive new cellphone-cancer” study was making the rounds. As I have long been interested in this topic, I started to read the headlines and news.

“Cellphone-Cancer Link Seen in Rat Study,” said Time. “Cellphone Radiation Linked to Cancer in Major Rat Study,” said IEEE Spectrum, a magazine for engineers. I was dismayed to say the least. “Game-changing,” as a quotation in a Mother Jones headline put it, seemed like a bit of an overreach.

So I went ahead and read the paper. Despite what some outlets reported, this was a not-yet-published study of rats that had been shopped around to scientific journals for review, but had not been accepted by any editors. It detailed a study that examined if exposing rats to radiation like that emitted by cellphones might give them cancer.

The researchers first exposed pregnant rats to whole body CDMA- or GSM-modulated radio frequency radiation for nine hours a day, every day of the week. Once these rats gave birth, the researchers took pups of each sex and set them up in groups exposed to both types of radiation at three different levels. At the end of the study, they found that male rats had a statistically significant (p<0.05) higher rate of glioma, a brain tumor, and cardiac schwannomas, a nerve tumor in the heart, in the CDMA-exposed groups.

There were no differences in brain tumors in the GSM-exposed rats. There were no differences seen in female rats. There were no differences seen in schwannomas in other locations than the heart in any rats.

This, evidently, was enough for many news media outlets to proclaim that “the debate had been reignited” and that “your cellphone could kill you.” That’s not what the study said at all.

Let’s begin with the fact that this is a rat study and that we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that what happens with rats and cancer is what happens in humans. That’s burned us before.
Continue reading the main story

It’s also odd that increased cancer was seen only in male rats and not in female rats. Do we believe that females are protected from cellphone radiation?

Oddly, the male rats in the control group lived much shorter lives than expected. Do we believe that cellphone radiation exposure makes rats live longer? The rate of cancer in the exposed rats was actually in line with what you’d expect in rats in general. It’s the controls that had oddly low rates of cancer. Do we believe that the control rats were somehow cured of cancer?

The answer to all of these questions is, of course, no. But headlines blaring those results would be just as valid as those we saw last week.

The shortened life span in the control rats is a real problem, too. If it turns out that these cancers develop later in life, then their dying early could be responsible for all the significant results of the study.

Given the small number of rats in the study, the many comparisons done, and the low rates of cancer overall, we have to be concerned with the validity of the results. When you’re designing research, you need to make sure that you have enough of a sample so that you don’t get a negative result when there really is a difference (a false negative), or a positive result when there really is no difference (a false positive). This study is likely to have a high false discovery rate, or an increased risk of being a false positive.

You can’t cherry-pick in science, as I’ve discussed before. If you want to own the positive result seen in males, you have to own the protection being female seems to confer. You have to own that the control rats were somehow magically without cancer. You have to own that cellphone exposure increases life span. Or you can admit that none of these results are especially convincing.

But too often, the news media latch onto one finding while ignoring others. Too often, this finding is the one that’s most frightening, or scariest. It’s certainly the one that seems most likely to get attention.

No study can be judged in isolation. In this case, taking the results from one arguably imperfect rat study while ignoring others makes no sense. When it comes to cellphones and cancer, a great deal of research already exists.

Most of that work is what we call case-control studies. To do a study like that, you’d find a group of people with brain tumors (cases) and a group of similar people without brain tumors (controls). Then, you’d get data on them (like “do you use a cellphone?”) to see if differences exist between them.

Studies like this, though, are susceptible to what we call recall bias. This is where people who have had something bad happen to them are more likely to think hard and remember things, like using a cellphone, than people who have not. Better-designed studies, including cohort studies, have not shown a link between cellphones and cancer.

Many organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Communications Commission and the European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks have reviewed the collected research — there is a lot — and found insufficient evidence for a link.

No new study can be viewed in a vacuum. It must be added to what is already known. Given such a large body of studies, you can’t take one small rat study and say that it’s a “game changer.” It’s nearly impossible for any such study to overcome all that has come before.

This is especially true because of publication bias. It’s probably much more likely that you’ll get a new study published if you find a link between cellphones and cancer than if you don’t.

There’s a media bias, too. When published studies have negative results, you often don’t hear about them. When results are positive, especially if they are frightening, they’re talked about as if they’re definitive.

One more point. All research should be hypothesis-driven, and make sense in the real world. Cellphones are unbelievably common. More than 90 percent of people in the United States use one regularly. If they caused brain cancer in even a small percentage of users, we’d see an increase in its incidence. Since the late 1980s, however, the incidence of brain cancer in the United States has been decreasing.

Faced with such real-world evidence, anyone should be skeptical about arguments that one causes the other.

When a new study is published, it must be thoroughly vetted to see how robust its results are. It must be evaluated in light of all other research that exists. It must be considered alongside real-world data to ensure that it makes sense. That’s how we need to think — and report — about new research.

Aaron E. Carroll is a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine who blogs on health research and policy at The Incidental Economist and makes videos at Healthcare Triage. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronecarroll.



May 26th, 2016

PSC Secretary Nivedita Majumdar thanks the Mayor for his support of CUNY

Advocates for CUNY Budget at City Hall with Council Member Barron (green jacket)

May 20, 2016, Several organizations, which are part of the CUNY Rising Alliance, gathered last Friday on the steps of City Hall for a press conference in support of CUNY. Among the group was New York Public Interest Research Group, NYPIRG and Professional Staff Congress, PSC. In addition, the group was joined by NYC Council Member and Chair of the Committee on Higher Education, Inez D. Barron and NYC Council Member Ydanis A. Rodriguez, who is also a committee member. Speakers called for the city to invest in CUNY.

Council Member Barron said “We are pleased to know that our efforts were successful to keep the city from absorbing a $485 million cost in higher education. Our struggle continues to ensure that New York City invests in sustaining and expanding CUNY funding.”

Nivedita Majumdar, PSC Secretary, thanked the Mayor for his support of CUNY and the PSC.
The press conference took place just prior to a joint meeting of the Committee on Finance and the Committee on Higher Education. Both committees of the City Council approved the CUNY budget.

Story and photos by Jennifer Faucher


Gonzalez: NYC’s housing reports so flawed they’re nearly useless

May 3rd, 2016


Mayor de Blasio is using fuzzy math to tabulate one of his signature projects, the building of new affordable housing units, Controller Scott Stringer said Thursday.

In a letter to de Blasio’s Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, Stringer said his office found so many errors and omissions in a periodic report required by the City Council since 2012 to track both new affordable units and the subsidies handed to real estate developers that the data are almost useless.

According to Stringer, housing officials have only been listing rent levels for 20% of some 1,000 buildings that are currently in the database and for which a portion of housing units must be affordable.

In some cases, entire buildings that received major city subsidies are not even listed in the database that the Council’s legislation, known as Local Law 44, created.

Take, for example, the huge Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn developed by Greenland Forest City Partners, Bruce Ratner’s joint venture with a huge Chinese company.

One of the developers’ buildings, 535 Carlton Ave., received $85 million in loans from the city’s Housing Development Corp. and is supposed to offer all units as affordable. Another, at 38 Sixth Ave., benefitted from $93 million in HDC loans and is likewise supposed to be 100% affordable.

But neither building is listed in the latest Local Law 44 report.

“Whether these omissions occur due to the law failing to explicitly require information or through the city’s interpretation of the law, the result is the same,” Stringer said in the letter obtained by the Daily News.

“The public is deprived of basic information necessary to analyze and understand the city’s affordable housing construction efforts,” Stringer said.

De Blasio’s aides immediately dismissed the criticism as an attempt to smear the housing program.


“There’s not much he (Stringer) gets right in his letter,” said Vicki Been, commissioner for housing preservation and development.

“We are following the law,” Been said. “If the controller has a problem with the law, he should take it up with the Council.”

According to Been, her agency is not reporting on projects that receive financial assistance solely from HDC because it is an “independent agency.”


That ignores the simple fact that the majority of HDC’s governing board is made up of City Hall executives, including Been.

In 2014, HDC provided developers nearly $2 billion in affordable housing assistance. By what reading of Local Law 44 should that money not be tracked?

The law specifically defines financial assistance as “any loans, grants, tax credits, tax exemptions . . . or other thing of value allocated, conveyed or expended by the city.”


The only tax break the City Council specifically excluded from the law’s reporting requirement is the now-expired luxury housing exemption known as 421a.

Given de Blasio’s promise to build and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing, and all the money being spent to achieve that, there’s certainly a need for one reporting system to track what actually happens.

“Right now, we don’t know how many units are being built, what the rent levels are, how long they are affordable and whether the programs we are funding are actually helping the New Yorkers who need it the most,” Stringer said.