January 17th, 2016
By Elizabeth Crowley
A modest increase in cost would provide for safer worksites, quality jobs and career development
New York City is undeniably experiencing an affordable housing crisis. To combat this problem, each year the city provides hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and low-interest loans to developers building affordable housing.
The city has committed to working with developers to spend nearly $25 billion on Housing New York, a plan that will create affordable housing in all five boroughs. Funded mainly through the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the plan will build or restore 200,000 affordable units in the city over 10 years.
If our scarce city resources are so heavily invested in developing affordable housing, then we must demand the highest operating standards. That means requiring project labor agreements and/or prevailing wages on all projects receiving financial assistance from the city.
Prevailing wages, which are set based on trade and location, call for skilled and trained workers, often members of the Building Trades Council. This leads to safer and better working conditions. The Independent Budget Office released a report this week stating that requiring a prevailing wage for the Housing New York plan would raise costs by 13%.
Is a 13% increase on a project that is already being significantly subsidized really an elevated cost we cannot bear?
Union workers begin as apprentices and go through four years or more of schooling and on-the-job training before graduating as full-fledged tradespersons. When starting an apprenticeship, union workers earn about $13 an hour plus benefits, and after years of training, can earn $45 or more hourly plus benefits. Tradespeople are more and more reflecting the great diversity of our city, working hard for the middle class.
In the past, too many HPD projects were built at the expense of our workers. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently found several developers of HPD housing guilty of owing workers almost $12 million. Prevailing wage protects our workers from wage theft and ensures they are receiving a fair, livable wage.
This is not a new idea. In 1931, Congress passed the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires workers on federally funded projects to be paid the prevailing wage. In New York, State Law 220 requires workers on public projects to be paid the local prevailing wage. And in 2012, the City Council passed a similar law providing prevailing wage protection for building maintenance staff.
In New York City, the greatest city in the world, we have a responsibility to ensure that wealth and growth is shared with our workforce, and that contractors are not padding their pockets while trades workers struggle. That is why I introduced legislation (Intro 0744-2015) that would require a prevailing wage for any person performing construction work on a project receiving greater than $1 million in financial assistance from the city.
This year, let’s use the IBO report as a guide and push for the additional 13% that would ensure our city is built more efficiently, by experienced workers who are paid fair wages. Through this, and by passing Intro 0744, we can ensure New York City is strong for generations to come.
Elizabeth Crowley represents Glendale, Ridgewood and other parts of southwest Queens in the City Council.
GOVERNOR’S PROPOSED BUDGET INCREASES AFFORDABLE HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE AND HELPS CONSUMERS ACCESS CARE
January 14th, 2016
Albany, NY- Health Care for All New York (HCFANY), a statewide coalition of over 170 consumer advocacy organizations, congratulates Governor Cuomo for an Executive Budget that continues efforts to increase insurance coverage and help consumers work with their health plans to access care. However, HCFANY proposes changes that will close additional coverage gaps and meet growing demand from consumers who need help with their plans.
The Essential Plan, which is being rolled out this month, is expected to provide coverage for hundreds of thousands of low- and moderate-income New Yorkers and save the State more than $600 million annually. “Every day our consumers express delight and relief at the chance to get affordable, high quality health coverage for $20 or less a month,” said Elisabeth R. Benjamin, MSPH, JD, Vice President of Health Initiatives at the Community Service Society of New York, “As Governor Cuomo notes, the Essential Plan is a real ‘win-win’ for New York, simultaneously saving money for consumers and easing the State’s budget burden.”
“Make the Road New York (MRNY), along with HCFANY, applauds the Department of Health’s efforts to create the Essential Plan,” said Becca Telzak, Director of Health Programs, MRNY. “However, the state should fund Essential Plan coverage for immigrants who cannot currently participate because of their immigration status. Without this funding, they miss out on a fantastic coverage option and are likely to become or remain uninsured.” Claudia Calhoon, Director of Health Advocacy, New York Immigration Coalition, adds, “For example, working young people who have been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA and make too much to be eligible for Medicaid currently have no coverage options. Extending insurance coverage to this small group will strengthen their ability to work, study, and contribute to their communities and New York State’s economy.” HCFANY proposes allocating $10 million to fund Essential Plan coverage for immigrants currently ineligible because they are categorized as PRUCOLs. These are people who entered the US without documentation, but who are now in contact with immigration authorities and are here to stay.
HCFANY also commends the Governor’s support for the Community Health Advocates (CHA) program. Since 2010, CHA has helped nearly 200,000 New Yorkers and saved over $14 million for consumers. “Empire Justice Center is very pleased by Governor Cuomo’s continued support for CHA, a statewide program that provides critical assistance to New Yorkers in accessing health services and best utilizing their insurance coverage to meet their health needs. We look forward to working with both the Governor and the Legislature to provide sufficient resources to fully fund and expand CHA services to engage more small business serving groups and assist more New Yorkers in need,” said Amy Lowenstein, a Senior Health Attorney with Empire Justice Center.
HCFANY looks forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature to secure quality, affordable health care for New Yorkers. A full analysis of the Executive Budget will be released in the coming weeks.
January 14th, 2016
BY MONICA DISARE
Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed boosting state education spending, particularly for troubled schools, in an agenda-setting speech Wednesday that shied away from the contentious education proposals that defined last year’s address.
His most significant proposal was a $100 million plan to convert struggling schools into resource-filled “community” schools. He also called for more funding and oversight for charter schools, a $2.1 billion increase in school funding over the next two years, and a series of changes to the Common Core learning standards, which a state panel recommended last month.
The changes include a temporary ban on the use of test scores to evaluate teachers, which marks a reversal from Cuomo’s proposal in last year’s State of the State address to increase the weight of test scores in evaluations. Cuomo did not mention the evaluations on Wednesday, but instead blamed the state education department for a bungled rollout of the standards and assessments, which he suggested had fueled parents’ massive test boycott last year.
The changes are necessary to restore the public’s faith in the state’s education system, he said.
“The education system fails without parental trust,” he said during his roughly two-hour budget and policy speech.
Groups that say the state’s urban schools are severely underfunded were disappointed by Cuomo’s proposed budget increase, while charter school groups were pleased with the idea of extra funds. His more modest education plans this year avoided the fierce attacks by critics that last year’s speech provoked — particularly the state teachers union, which called last year’s speech “intellectually hollow” and “misguided.”
On Wednesday, the union called Cuomo’s latest address “a starting point that sets a positive tone for public education.”
This article was first published by Chalkbeat New York on Jan. 13.
More funding for community schools
The governor wants to earmark $100 million to expand the number of “community” schools, which would provide before-and-after school mentoring, summer activities, and health services to students.
Of that $100 million, $75 million will be allocated to the 17 districts that have schools the state has designated as struggling based on their low test scores or graduation rates. (Last year, only “persistently struggling” schools were eligible to receive a portion of $75 million set aside for turnaround efforts.)
New York City has led the charge on creating community schools. Adding extra support services to struggling schools is at the center of the city’s “Renewal” improvement program, which predated the state’s turnaround effort.
More funding, and enrollment scrutiny, for charter schools
Cuomo, a longtime supporter of the charter-school movement, had mixed messages for charter schools.
He made it clear that he supports the development of more charter schools. His budget proposal increases funding for charter schools by $27 million and will allow the per-pupil funding formula for charter schools to change. (The state’s charter law has frozen per-pupil spending in recent years, frustrating charter advocates who note that their budgets haven’t increased even as district school budgets have.)
“Governor Cuomo’s proposal is a vital element of fixing funding inequity for charter schools,” the pro-charter advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools said in a statement.
He also said he wants state officials to examine the enrollment and retention policies at charter schools. There’s been “anecdotal evidence of troubling practices,” the budget materials read.
That could be a shot at Success Academy, the largest charter school network in New York City, which has been under scrutiny recently after one principal created a “Got to Go” list of troublesome students.
Common Core, state tests, and a final flip-flop
The governor officially accepted all 21 recommendations of made by his Common Core task force in December. It recommended editing the controversial learning standards, especially those for the youngest students, and a number of changes to state tests. The task force also recommended suspending the use of state test scores in teacher evaluations.
Cuomo’s endorsement of the suggestions represents a complete reversal of his policy on teacher evaluations. Last year he used his State of the State Speech to call for tougher teacher evaluations. At Cuomo’s urging, the legislature passed a law that required standardized testing counted for about half a teacher’s evaluation.
The law helped spark a state test opt-out movement that included 20 percent of public school students statewide.
The governor proposed a $2.1 billion increase in state aid to schools over the next two years and a $1 billion increase this year. Cuomo’s materials boast that the allocation would increase school aid to the highest level in history, though it’s lower than the Board of Regents proposal for $2.4 billion in the 2016-17 school year.
It’s also lower than what many education interest groups want. The New York State Educational Conference Board, which is comprised of groups like the state teachers union and the council of school superintendents, suggested a $2.2 billion increase.
Cuomo also proposed eliminating the $434 million Gap Elimination Adjustment, which cut education funding during the financial crisis based on a formula that took a district’s share of high-needs students into account.
With mayoral control of New York City’s schools set to expire this year, the governor said Wednesday that he supports a three-year extension.
He also supported a three-year extension last January, but ended up renewing the law for only a year amid a public feud between with Mayor Bill de Blasio, who accused Cuomo of using mayoral control as a “political football.”
The mayor struck a more conciliatory tone after governor’s speech.
“I would say this is a system that should be locked in for the long-term, or certainly extended on a longer basis,” de Blasio said in a press conference after the speech, “but I appreciate that the governor put forward a specific number.”
The budget included an additional $22 million for pre-kindergarten programs specifically for three year olds. The investment should create 2,000 to 2,500 new pre-K seats across the state.
New York City, where de Blasio has made the expansion of pre-K a signature issue, is using its own system to review individual pre-K programs. Last month, the city announced results from its first review, which indicated that about 77 percent of pre-K programs were meeting a benchmark that shows positive impact on students.
January 14th, 2016
By Dana Milbank
Just in time for the 2016 election, the Roberts Court has found yet another way to stack the deck in favor of the rich.
By all appearances at Monday’s argument, the five Republican-appointed justices are ready to upend a 40-year precedent guiding labor relations in favor of a new approach that will deplete public-sector unions’ finances and reduce their political clout. The case, from California, involves arcane issues of “agency fees” and member opt-outs, but make no mistake: This is about campaign finance, and, in particular, propping up the Republican Party.
Citizens United and other recent rulings created the modern era of super PACs and unlimited political contributions by the wealthy. Because there are fewer liberal billionaires (and those who are politically active, such as George Soros and Tom Steyer, tend to shun super PACs in favor of their own projects) the only real counterweight to Republican super PACs in this new era is union money. And the Supreme Court is about to attack that, too.
The only question is how big a loss Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association will be for the unions. It’s virtually certain to be another step toward American oligarchy. The court’s conservative majority, setting aside a professed respect for precedent and states’ authority, is putting a thumb on the scale of justice in favor of the wealthy donors who have purchased the GOP and much of the government.
Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the Democratic appointees, argued that there were good arguments on both sides of the case, but no compelling reason to “overrule a compromise that was worked out over 40 years and has lasted reasonably well.” Said Breyer: “I guess people could overrule our decisions just as easily. And you start overruling things, what happens to the country thinking of us as a kind of stability in a world that is tough because it changes a lot?”
The answer, of course, is Americans have already come to see the court as another political branch of government. Lawyer Michael Carvin, leading the anti-union side Monday, gave further justification for that impression. In front of the justices, he dismissed the notion “that anything could happen adversely” to unions as a result of the case. But then he went out to the Supreme Court plaza and, in front of a cheering crowd, told the truth: “It may limit their revenue somewhat, but of course they can compensate for that by being less involved in things like politics.”
And that’s exactly the goal.
The huge political consequences of the case were unstated in the chamber, but the argument was at times as partisan as a debate on the House floor. Carvin frequently interrupted and talked over the three female justices — classic “mansplaining,” as Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick observed from the press seats. Carvin referred to the other side’s argument as the “so-called opposition” and pronounced Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s surname as “Soto-my-ear.” At one point he quipped that he has a First Amendment right not to join the American Bar Association, “because virtually every word out of their mouth I disagree with.” Justice Samuel Alito guffawed.
The argument was mostly for show, because there was little doubt the 1977 Abood decision will go down. This will make it easier for public-sector workers who benefit from collective bargaining but who don’t want to be in unions to avoid paying fees to the union, even for nonpolitical functions. Union finances will be further drained at a time when labor is historically weak.
Carvin spent his morning affirming the conservative justices. To Antonin Scalia: “You’re a thousand percent right, Your Honor.” To Anthony Kennedy: “Exactly, Your Honor.” To Alito: “Your recollection of history is correct.”
And these conservative justices left no doubt where they stood. Chief Justice John Roberts dismissed as “really insignificant” the unions’ argument about free riders. Scalia informed the union’s lawyer that his argument “doesn’t mean anything to me.”
Breyer reminded his colleagues that when the court jettisons precedent, it’s usually to right an egregious or basic wrong, such as the Plessy v. Ferguson precedent justifying segregation. “I don’t see anything too basic in the lines you’re drawing,” he told Carvin.
Carvin invoked Thomas Jefferson, saying the third president thought it “sinful and tyrannical” to require “people to give money which they don’t wish to give.”
It’s not known how Jefferson would have felt about public-sector unions. But what’s sinful and tyrannical is for billionaires to take over the electoral process and the government — and for the highest court in the land to take aim at the last remaining counterweight.
January 11th, 2016
In rushing to overhaul state’s infrastructure, the governor has gotten ahead of the agencies tasked with planning improvements
By Jeremy Smerd
Gov. Andrew Cuomo grabbed headlines ahead of his State of the State address this week with a slew of projects that made business owners with big stakes in the state feel as if he’s advancing half-baked ideas.
The governor has shown he’s committed to repairing the state’s shoddy infrastructure. He’s building a new Tappan Zee Bridge, backing a new trans-Hudson train tunnel and helping the Metropolitan Transportation Authority pay for its capital plan.
But his love for a big project with his fingerprints on it seems to ignore the careful planning undertaken by the agencies charged with thinking about these things.
The governor last week proposed adding a third track to the Long Island Rail Road—a project that was not important enough to make it into the MTA’s capital plan—and a Long Island-Westchester car tunnel that has gone nowhere since being conceived in the 1960s. His $1 billion idea to expand the Javits Center seems as slapdash as his plan four years ago to put a convention center next to Aqueduct. Consider that a similar Javits plan pegged at $1.7 billion in 2005 was canceled when the Spitzer administration found it would cost as much as $5 billion.
Cuomo’s vision for Penn Station seems equally curious. Rather than right a historical wrong that saw the destruction of the original Beaux-Arts building, he will keep Madison Square Garden, severely limiting the ability to bring light and space into the station’s congested warrens. The plan also appears to ignore a binding agreement giving the Related Cos. and Vornado Realty Trust the right to develop the Farley post office across the street into Moynihan Station.
If these ideas are not coming from the agencies overseeing infrastructure, where are they coming from? The governor’s original inner circle has been hollowed out. True, Alphonso David remains, now in the role of counsel, and Jim Malatras returned to lead state operations. But Pat Foye is leaving as the head of the Port Authority after not being named its new CEO, even though he is well qualified for it. Meanwhile, Empire State Development, under CEO Howard Zemsky, is reportedly under investigation by Preet Bharara for its Buffalo Billion program.
Which brings me to the elephant in the room. Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos shared the stage with the governor during his State of the State last year. This year both are on their way to prison. The U.S. attorney for the Southern District is on the march and the governor seems more isolated than ever, suggesting that his big plans to move New York may ultimately go nowhere.
January 9th, 2016
FRESNO, Calif. — Harlan Elrich is a high school teacher in California, and that means he must pay about $970 a year to a labor union. He teaches math, and he said the system did not add up.
“I get to choose what movie I want to go see,” Mr. Elrich said. “I get to choose what church I want to go to. I get to choose what gym I want to join.”
He should have the same choice, he said, about whether to support a union.
Mr. Elrich and nine other California teachers have sued the union, saying that they are being forced to pay to support positions with which they disagree, in violation of the First Amendment. Their lawsuit, if it is successful, will be the culmination of a decades-long legal campaign to undermine public unions.
And there is good reason to think they will win. The Supreme Court, which will hear arguments in the case on Monday, has twice suggested that the First Amendment bars forcing government workers to make payments to unions.
“Because a public-sector union takes many positions during collective bargaining that have powerful political and civic consequences, the compulsory fees constitute a form of compelled speech and association that imposes a significant impingement on First Amendment rights,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority in 2012 in one of the cases. Inviting a new legal challenge, he wrote, “We do not revisit today whether the court’s former cases have given adequate recognition to the critical First Amendment rights at stake.”
The new case is that challenge. The court’s decision, expected by June, will affect millions of government workers of all kinds and may deal a sharp financial and political blow to public unions. (The ruling is unlikely to have a direct impact on unionized employees of private businesses, as the First Amendment restricts government action and not private conduct.)
“It’s scary,” said Steve Rosenthal, a former A.F.L.-C.I.O. political director, noting that “most of the growth in the labor movement over the last few decades has been in the public sector.”
“It’s part of a concerted effort trying to dismantle the labor movement and to weaken workers’ rights in this country,” he added. “At the same time that we are facing a near crisis in the elimination of the middle class, people are also trying to destroy one of the main vehicles to the middle class.”
Limiting the power of public unions has long been a goal of conservative groups, and some California teachers detected a political agenda in Mr. Elrich’s suit, which was organized by the Center for Individual Rights, a libertarian group partly financed by conservative foundations.
“It’s corporate special interests that are backing this,” said Reagan Duncan, a first-grade teacher in Vista, Calif. The core issue in the case is not free speech but basic fairness, she said, arguing that Mr. Elrich and the other plaintiffs sought to take a free ride on the union’s work, which includes negotiating for higher wages and better benefits for all workers.
“It’s not right for some people to get union benefits for free while others have to pay,” she said. “If I went to a grocery store, I wouldn’t walk out with my groceries and not pay while the guy behind me had to pay for my groceries and his groceries.”
Mr. Elrich said he could do fine without the union’s help. “I can negotiate for myself,” he said. “I’m a good teacher, highly respected, and I can go anywhere.”
Under California law, which is similar to ones in more than 20 other states, public employees who choose not to join unions must pay a “fair-share service fee,” also known as an agency fee, which is typically equivalent to members’ dues. The fees, the law says, are meant to pay for collective bargaining activities, including “the cost of lobbying activities.”
Such fees are constitutional, the Supreme Court ruled in 1977 in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. “To compel employees financially to support their collective-bargaining representative has an impact upon their First Amendment interests,” Justice Potter Stewart wrote for the majority. But, he wrote, “such interference as exists is constitutionally justified” to prevent freeloading and to ensure “labor peace.”
What crossed a constitutional line, though, he added, was forcing objecting workers to pay for “ideological activities unrelated to collective bargaining.”
Mr. Erlich said he got a refund of “between $350 and $400 a year” based on the union’s determination of what part of its activities were political. But he and the other plaintiffs say that everything the union does in negotiating with the government is political and that the Abood decision should be overruled.
“In this era of broken municipal budgets and a national crisis in public education,” a brief for the plaintiffs said, “it is difficult to imagine more politically charged issues than how much money local governments should devote to public employees, or what policies public schools should adopt to best educate children.”
“Yet California and more than 20 other states,” the brief continued, “compel millions of public employees to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to fund a very specific viewpoint on these pressing public questions.”
Karen Cuen, an elementary school music teacher in Chino Hills, Calif., and a plaintiff in the suit, gave an example. “I disagree with seniority-based layoffs, seniority-based school assignments,” she said.
Ms. Duncan, the first-grade teacher and union supporter, said the line between politics and collective bargaining was clear. “I do absolutely understand not wanting your money going to actual political campaigning,” she said.
“But when you think of politics, you think of political campaigns like school board races and ballot propositions,” she said. “I don’t think it’s political to care about working conditions as far as class size or your benefits.”
In the new case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, No. 14-915, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., representing the Obama administration, urged the justices to leave the Abood ruling alone. Reaping the benefits of collective bargaining, he said, is not the same as being compelled to support a political position.
“The typical worker would surely perceive a significant difference between, on the one hand, contributing to a union’s legal and research costs to develop a collective-bargaining proposal for his own unit, and, on the other hand, making a political contribution to a union-favored candidate for governor,” Mr. Verrilli wrote.
Kamala D. Harris, California’s attorney general, told the justices in a brief that workers who objected to the positions taken by unions suffered no First Amendment injuries because “they remain free to communicate their views to school officials, their colleagues and the public at large.”
There is no serious dispute that allowing workers to choose to pay nothing to the unions representing them would cause at least some workers to opt out, weakening unions’ financial clout.
“I am sure most will continue to pay their dues,” said Vincent Variale, a lieutenant in the New York City Fire Department’s emergency medical services division and a union official. “But we live paycheck to paycheck. It’s human nature that if you can get something for free, you may take advantage of that. So there may be some people who do that.”
The plaintiffs were more sanguine.
“They might lose 10 percent, maybe 15 tops,” Mr. Elrich said. “But I think there’s enough people in the schools that are supportive of the unions that they would still be in the union.”
According to the plaintiffs, relying on slightly dated statistics, 9.7 percent of California workers represented by the National Education Association are nonmembers who pay agency fees rather than dues. If all of those employees stopped paying fees, their brief said, the union would still enjoy robust financial support and revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Ms. Cuen said the unions might need to improve to keep their members.
“If they’re worried about not getting forced money from everyone, what does that say about their product?” she asked. “So maybe if we win the case and they’re worried about people leaving in droves, they might need to improve their product and make it a little more user-friendly.”
In 2014, in Harris v. Quinn, the Supreme Court stopped just short of overruling the Abood decision, ruling only that the home health care aides who had brought the suit did not have to pay union fees because they were not full-fledged government workers.
In dissent in the 5-to-4 decision, which divided along ideological lines, Justice Elena Kagan suggested that her side had dodged a bullet. “Readers of today’s decision,” she wrote, “will know that Abood does not rank on the majority’s top-ten list of favorite precedents — and that the majority could not restrain itself from saying (and saying and saying) so.”
Posted under BALCONY Issues in the News
December 14th, 2015
By Steven Wishnia
Can an alliance of carpenters and churches help solve New York City’s housing crisis?
That was the hope expressed at Riverside Church Dec. 12, when the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust and the United Clergy Task Force, a coalition of religious institutions and labor unions, announced plans to invest $300 million to build affordable housing and community facilities at seven sites in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Jersey City. The projects are expected to create more than 800 apartments, 1,400 union jobs, and apprenticeships for neighborhood residents.
In my father’s house there are many mansions,” Bishop Angelo Rosario of the Bronx orated, his voice reverberating off the church’s stone arches. “Somebody had to build these mansions. “We need more housing, and we must build it with union labor,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. What exactly will be built hasn’t been determined yet, says Housing Investment Trust vice-president Eric Price. The first two will most likely be on sites owned by St. Paul Community Baptist Church in the East New York section of Brooklyn, the church that started the Nehemiah Plan to build single-family homes in the 1980s, and the Heavenly Temple Church of God in Christ in Jersey City. The other five include a Pentecostal church in Mott Haven and a mosque in Parkchester, and there are about 35 more on the waiting list. Who the apartments built will be affordable for will depend on the site and finances, but some will be intended for people who make less than $50,000 a year—the income range usually excluded from affordable-housing schemes that leverage private investment—and some will be “workforce” housing, generally for families with dual middle-class incomes.
“Our goal is to begin all of them in the next five to seven years,” Price says. The day was more one for righteous visions than for specifics. David Aviles, director of the United Clergy Task Force, said that while the plan would build houses and get people union jobs, it was also about “rebuilding hope in our communities.” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, a minister’s son, said the projects would “shed light on the darkness of the spiraling abyss of homelessness” and that the plan was “in the spirit of Joseph and Mary. They were immigrants. They were homeless. Joseph was an unemployed carpenter.” Unions’ participation is part of the labor movement’s greater social mission, said Vincent Alvarez of the New York City Central Labor Council, quoting Cesar Chavez—“when we go out and pursue prosperity, make sure we include the hopes and aspirations of others.” “Organized labor is standing up for what is right and just,” said Gary LaBarbera of the Building and Trades Construction Council of Greater New York, saying that unions were giving back to the community in the same way that 20,000 union construction workers had “stood up strong and loud” two days before at a rally for 14 nonunion immigrant construction workers killed on the job in the last year. Is it financially feasible to build affordable housing while paying union wages, trust fund CEO Steve Coyle asked rhetorically: “We’ve only built 145,000 apartments with union labor.” City Comptroller Scott Stringer said New York’s municipal pension funds had $1 billion in the trust “because it’s a good investment” and will help “solve the problems of the city.”
October 6th, 2015
By Bill Hohlfeld
The Sustainable Port Chester Alliance continues to be clear regarding their expectations of Starwood Capital. If the $45 billion behemoth would like to come to Port Chester to expand their already massive portfolio of real estate holdings, they are going to have to share the wealth with those who make it possible for them to profit. A Community Benefits Agreement is a likely way to achieve that goal, and quickly became the theme of the Town Hall meeting held at the Port Chester Knights of Columbus building on Thursday, October 1.
The Alliance seeking this agreement consists of a variety of stakeholders, including local church parishioners, residents of both Port Chester and Rye, labor organizations and the regional chapter of the NAACP. Those members are standing together to ensure that Starwood’s proposed United Hospital project provides much needed affordable housing, adequate school funding, all required environmental safeguards and a source of good jobs for local workers. If, at first glance, the scenario has something of a “David and Goliath”aura about it, a closer look reveals some mighty heavy stones in Port Chester’s sling.
For starters, one of Port Chester’s chief allies in this struggle, and panelists at Thursday’s meeting was the city of Rye’s mayor, Joe Sack. With his city lying just to the south of Port Chester and sharing a border, whatever impacts the one, spills over into the life of the other. He has faithfully attended both Town Hall and Port Chester Village Trustee meetings, and lent a certain gravitas to the proceedings. He does so, not only by comfortably navigating the waters of government, but of openly stating his resolve to stay in the fight until any problems associated with the development (for him, a prime concern is traffic patterns) are properly mitigated. As evidence of that resolve, he cites his most recent court battle with the County of Westchester over expansion of Playland. It’s a battle which he won, and although he says he’d rather come to an amicable agreement, he’s not afraid to use the courts again to protect the best interests of his city.
Another valuable resource on the panel was Ms. Virginia Ellis, who is President of the Port Chester Teachers Association, and as many of her colleagues are, a resident of the community. A math teacher by profession, she relied upon the old axiom of “numbers don’t lie.”Her carefully researched and compiled figures showed a sharp contrast between the uber-rich developer and the overburdened school system of which she is a part. Starwood has some 247 luxury locations in over 14 countries world wide, and besides their current fortune, have done done over $65 billion in real estate transactions in the last two decades.
That leaves them in a very different financial situation than the Port Chester school system, where an estimated 66% of its students are classified as economically disadvantaged, 25% are not proficient in the English language and 12% are challenged by learning disabilities. This is a school system still struggling to recover from the recession of 2008 and a $16.3 million gap in state aid that came along with it. “Why,”she wonders from her already overcrowded classroom “should Starwood be let off the hook for $34 million; why should the privileged ask for more and get out of paying their fair share?”
Also questioning the fairness of the project as currently proposed by Starwood, was Pastor Bruce Baker of All Souls Parish. He alluded specifically to Starwood’s intention to do away with the multi-family housing unit at 999 High Street. This complex, when used to capacity, contains 134 affordable housing units. At present, only 42 of these units are in use, and Starwood would demolish even these. Not given to hyperbole, the Reverend Baker simply stated “This is not a good idea.”He informed the audience of the common practice of their neighboring communities in the county. Recently, hobbs Ferry agreed to a 220 unit development and received a 20 unit set aside of units for affordable housing. Hastings-on-Hudson struck a similar bargain with a developer, and got a set aside of 12 apartments out of 66.
The same type of negotiations took place in Croton-on-Hudson. Anywhere from 10 to 20 per cent of those developments became available for low to moderate income families. “If Starwood were to follow that formula,”stated Pastor Baker “it would be replacing the number of units that PortChester would be losing.”It was a point well made.
Also adding clout to the panel was guest speaker and Fordham Law Professor, Brian Glick, who was well versed in the subject of Community Benefits Agreements and came to offer some sound advice. He views them as an effective tool to ensure against a list of broken promises. They are a common practice now and in no way unprecedented. He advised to get specific dates and numbers written into the agreement to avoid vague terms such as “best effort”as they often leave the developer with too large a loop hole through which to slip.
He went on to say that the list of concessions made to a community could come in the form of parks, community health care centers, schools, environmental clean-ups and more. “Starwood,”he predicted “already has an A, B, and C plan, and is willing to do what it has to do.”
He recommended getting cash amounts for certain projects being put aside in advance and making sure that whoever signed the agreement on the part of the community be an agency that is still in existence at the time consideration is due. Finally, Professor Glick pointed to the CBA reached at the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx as a model for what can be attained. It included 890 local hire construction jobs, 260 living wage permanent jobs support for local small businesses and even free ice time at the skating rink for neighborhood children. The Professor ended by wishing the community good luck.
Moderator, Joan Grangenois-Thomas summed up the position of the Alliance and the greater community. “The resource known as the United Hospital Project is nothing less than a gem. We will protect it, and never give it away.”
Posted under BALCONY Issues in the News
De Blasio bashes ‘pitiful’ ad by Transport Workers Union claiming NYC is heading back to ‘bad old days’
October 1st, 2015
BY Erin Durkin
Mayor de Blasio slammed an attack ad run against him by the Transport Workers Union as “pitiful” and dishonest Monday.
“That ad is pitiful. I think it’s misleading. It doesn’t tell people the truth,” de Blasio said the same day the union ran an ad in the Daily News and elsewhere criticizing his reluctance to give more city money to the MTA. “The truth is the MTA is the state’s responsibility.”
The ad shows de Blasio as the conductor of a subway car covered in graffiti, with the caption: “Where are you taking us?”
“Mayor de Blasio risks taking us back to the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s, when graffiti-covered subway trains regularly broke down and rickety buses sputtered from stop to stop,” it reads.
The TWU has sided with the state in a dispute over who should foot the bill for the agency’s massive capital plan.
The MTA and Gov. Cuomo want de Blasio to pay $3.2 billion, but de Blasio says he already increased funding to $657 million only to have the state abruptly increase its request. He also argues he doesn’t want to pour more money into the MTA with no guarantee of what it will be used for.
“The MTA leadership’s appointed by the state. The state has budgetary responsibility for the MTA. All of the dire warnings in that ad should be addressed to the state of New York,” said de Blasio, who has been locked in a months-long feud with Cuomo. “We want to make sure that the MTA budget is not raided by the state of New York, which has happened in the past. That’s not fair to ask taxpayers in New York City to put money into something and then see it go right out the door into the state’s budget.”
“I think it’s an absolutely misleading ad, and it’s a pitiful attempt to disguise where the real responsibility for the MTA lies,” Hizzoner said.
TWU Local 100 president John Samuelson countered that de Blasio is using “ridiculous” arguments to avoid ponying up.
“If anything is pitiful, it’s the mayor’s abandonment of the working families that use the system every day,” he said. “The argument on behalf of the mayor that he wants control over where the money goes is an absolute smoke screen.”
De Blasio said city government contribution and taxes and fares paid by city residents and businesses add up to 73% of the MTA’s budget.
“That’s an absolutely ridiculous argument on the part of the mayor. Over 90% of the rides every single day are done in the New York City subway and bus system,” Samuelson said.
De Blasio said he may be willing to contribute more money, once the state has given more details on where its own share of the cost will come from and what projects will be funded.
“We’re doing a lot for the MTA. The power over the MTA resides in the state. It’s time for the state to claim full responsibility. And then we’re very, very willing to talk about other things we can do,” he said.
September 21st, 2015