BALCONY - Business and Labor Coalition of New York

Restoring the River Cafe and Water Club

October 29th, 2013

Getting It Shipshape Again

Restoring the River Café and the Water Club

by Gina Bellafante, NY Times

Last year on the evening of Oct. 29, Michael O’Keeffe — Buzzy to virtually everyone who knows him on two continents — had devised a plan for how he would proceed. High tide was scheduled to arrive at Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn, the site of one of Mr. O’Keeffe’s businesses, the River Café, around 9 p.m. He would stabilize the barge that housed the restaurant, deal with whatever potential repercussions he could, and then get in his car and travel up Third Avenue to 30th Street in Manhattan, where another one of his enterprises, the Water Club, also sat on the East River’s edge. High tide was set to arrive there at 9:56 p.m.

Read the entire story: RiverCafe

UFT Delegate Assembly: No to high stakes on new tests

October 15th, 2013

uft logo

By Maia Davis


The UFT Delegate Assembly on Oct. 9 overwhelmingly approved a pair of resolutions calling for an end to New York City’s overemphasis on testing and a moratorium on attaching high-stakes consequences to the state’s new Common Core tests.

The resolution on the moratorium says that the state should continue administering the new Common Core tests each spring. But it calls for a delay in using the test results to make high-stakes decisions about students, teachers or schools.

UFT Assistant Secretary LeRoy Barr, in introducing the resolution, noted that the UFT supports the Common Core Learning Standards but that its implementation in New York City has been rife with problems.

“We are asking for a moratorium, a pause, to get this right,” Barr said. “Our children deserve better, and we must demand that they have it.”

Delegate Michele Ferraro from PS 204 in Brooklyn said she favors the resolution as a means to give teachers and schools time to make the transition to the new standards.

“I’m in a school with fabulous, wonderful teachers,” said Ferraro. “But if I’m in a great place and things are this chaotic and confusing [in the transition to the Common Core], then I can just imagine what it is like in a school that is not such a great place.”

Mulgrew said that the continuing and severe delays in getting curriculum materials to schools and the unevenness in how well-prepared schools are for the new standards is ultimately unfair to not only teachers but also their students.

“You can’t tell me kids are getting the same level of education when this teacher received all the materials and this teacher did not,” Mulgrew said. “We cannot move forward with making decisions based on these tests until we have assurance that all teachers have the resources they need.”

Mulgrew said the UFT is not against the tests, but how the DOE is using them. “It’s not just about our members,” he said. “It’s about the kids.”


While Some Improvement Crept in during 2012, NYC’s Family Incomes and Poverty Status are Still Much Worse than before the Recession

October 15th, 2013


The latest data from the Census Bureau for 2012 show that while NYC median family incomes and poverty stabilized last year, we are still a very long way from undoing the deterioration caused by the 2008-09 recession. Most NYC families have been battered by the recession and the historically weak recovery. Adjusted for inflation, median family incomes dipped slightly in 2012 (but not significantly) and are $3,800 or 6.5% below the 2008 level. Nationally, inflation-adjusted median family incomes dropped by $5,000 or 7.5% from 2008 to 2012.

This income erosion among NYC residents results partly from a 2.8% drop in real median wage earnings, which fell by $1,000 from $35,000 in 2008 to $34,000 in 2012. This drop, in turn, stems from a disproportionate increase in part-time employment. Median wage earnings for both men and women working full-time, year-round, have risen by about 3% in inflation-adjusted terms over the past four years. On the other hand, the percent of the working age population that is employed was 56.8% in 2012, considerably below the 58.7% from 2008.


NYC’s poverty rate climbed from 18.2% in 2008 to 21.2% in 2012, an increase of 3.0 percentage points, more than for the nation as a whole. The U.S. poverty rate went from 13.2% to 15.9% over this period. Although there was a slight uptick in NYC’s poverty rate in 2012 compared to 2011, it was not a statistically significant change.

The poverty rate among New York City’s children has risen faster than the overall increase. In 2008, 26.5% of the city’s children were growing up in poverty households. By 2012, that number had risen to 31.4%.

The number of city residents living in “deep poverty,” considered to be half the official poverty threshold, increased from 2008 to 2012 even faster than the city’s overall poverty increase.

Since the start of the recession, 243,000 more city residents have fallen into poverty, bringing the total to 1.7 million out of a population of 8.2 million. For 2012, the federal poverty threshold for a 3-person family was $18,284.

In 2012, 410,000 workers, or one out of every 10, were paid wages that kept them in poverty. These 410,000 constitute the “working poor”, i.e., those who work either part-time or full-time but whose earnings are too low to lift their family incomes above the poverty line.


Reflecting the widespread hardships induced by the recession and slow recovery, the share of the city’s population receiving food stamps jumped from 14.9% in 2008 to 21% in 2012.

The city desperately needs the sort of recovery that shares the fruits of economic growth with all workers, rather than continuing to be heavily concentrated in the hands of a small elite. According to the latest Census Bureau data for 2012, there has been no significant lessening of New York City’s extreme inequality since 2007.

Taking sides in state casino debate: Business and labor interests team up with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on gaming amendment.

October 7th, 2013




By Chris Bragg

With a month to go before New York voters decide whether to legalize up to seven full-scale casinos statewide, a once-quiet battle has finally been joined. It pits deep-pocketed businesses against a lawyer who has taken the fight to the courts.

Business and labor interests (including hotel-worker unions) have lined up with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to push the amendment, which would initially situate four casinos in upstate New York, a key part of the governor’s plan to create jobs there. Three more could be built after seven years, and casino insiders are betting that one will be in New York City.

A coalition spearheaded by the Business Council of New York State has launched a political action committee called New York Jobs Now that can spend unlimited funds to promote the initiative. A poll conducted by the group showed that 51% of voters support the amendment as written, while 35% oppose it.

Jeffrey Gural, owner of Vernon Downs racino in central New York and Tioga Downs in the Southern Tier, has separately created super PACs to spend money in support of the measure. He hopes for a full-scale casino at Tioga Downs. And Nevele Investors, a group that wants to build a full-scale casino in Ulster County, is putting at least $100,000 toward passage of the amendment.

Some proponents have even floated the notion of spending up to $20 million in support of the measure, but that may not be necessary because little resistance has emerged. Opposition from Native American gambling interests has largely been neutralized by noncompete agreements struck earlier this year, and casinos from nearby states don’t seem particularly concerned. One logical opponent, Foxwoods in Connecticut, is eyeing a New York casino.

Last week, Brooklyn attorney Eric Snyder stepped into the breach. He filed a lawsuit to stop the state from holding the Nov. 5 vote. Mr. Snyder, who says he is working independently of any interests, has taken up the cause of good-government groups and other opponents, such as the socially conservative New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms. He argues that the amendment’s rosy language is unlawfully biased.

A recent Siena poll found that support for the amendment was far higher when voters were read that language, which says the measure is for the “purposes of promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes.” More -neutral-sounding language proposed by the state attorney general’s office was changed by the state Board of Elections after consultation with Mr. Cuomo’s office.

A hearing will be held Oct. 11 in Albany.



New pro-casino group, union gearing up to push Cuomo plan

October 4th, 2013


By Tom Precious

ALBANY – A new pro-casino group is asking business, labor and casino interests to help raise as much as $5 million to fund a campaign to persuade voters to approve up to seven new casinos in next month’s statewide referendum, individuals close to the group say.

Word of the infusion of cash to campaign for the casino expansion comes as the head of the state AFL-CIO told The Buffalo News on Thursday that the 2 million-member union is planning a full-scale effort leading up to Election Day to get the constitutional amendment proposal approved.

Mario Cilento, president of the umbrella union organization of hundreds of local unions across the state, said the union will unleash a politically potent get-out-the-vote effort that will include phone-banking operations, workplace fliers, mailings and volunteers at poll sites for the Nov. 5 vote.

“What we bring as a statewide labor organization is get-out-the-vote efforts,” Cilento said, adding that unions are supportive of a casino plan he says will create 17,000 temporary construction jobs and 7,000 permanent jobs.

On Tuesday, Cilento’s name surfaced as one of the members of a new group, NY Jobs Now, formed to campaign for the casino plan. The group is being ostensibly run out of the Albany offices of the Business Council of New York State. Three weeks ago, a political action committee by the same name, NY Jobs Now, filed an organizational statement with the state Elections Board.

The board’s key members, a gathering of union and business interests, are all allies of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who is author of the casino expansion plan.

The group has been mum about its specific plans, but individuals close to the organization, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said its publicly named members have been asked to contribute $2 million to $2.5 million to help fund an advertising campaign and get-out-the-vote efforts leading up to the referendum. Casino developers, including those based from New York to Las Vegas to Malaysia, have been asked to donate at least another $2 million to the group, according to sources.

It isn’t known how much the various casino companies might spend on their own efforts; that information will not be made public until well after the vote. Last month, in a private meeting of casino developers, executives talked of as much as $20 million possibly being needed if private polling suggested the casino plan was in trouble. But individuals involved in the talks said few expected it would end up costing anywhere near that level to run a pro-casino campaign.

In the past 30 days, at least five new political action committees have been created to help push the measure, according to reports filed with the state Elections Board. None has disclosed any spending yet to the elections agency. The groups include the NY Jobs Now group, as well as casino interests hoping to develop gambling facilities from the Catskills to the Southern Tier near Binghamton.

Anti-casino groups, meanwhile, say they expect to spend little trying to defeat the proposal. If the measure fails, the Cuomo administration said it will still move ahead to let casino operators open four facilities featuring just video lottery terminals, which are devices that look, sound and play like slot machines.

The industry push comes as the Cuomo administration has been slowly rolling out a campaign for the governor’s casino plan. The administration Wednesday released its estimates for how $430 million in annual casino revenues would be spread around the state for school and local government funding.

Depending on how pollsters ask the question, recent polls have shown the referendum’s chances as being close or with a healthy lead.

The new group’s members also include Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown; the mayor was not immediately available for comment Thursday. Buffalo, and all of Western New York, is prohibited from any new casino development if the referendum passes, because of the deal Cuomo struck earlier this year with the Seneca Nation of Indians to preserve the tribe’s existing gambling exclusivity rights in the region.


EffectiveNY and CRREO Constitutional Issues Conference A New New York: The Constitutional Dimension

October 4th, 2013

In addition to electing political candidates, New York state voters are poised to directly decide a number of ballot issues affecting millions of people.

Should new gambling casinos be legalized?

Should judges make decisions until they are 80?

Should the power to draw political boundaries be taken away from elected officials?

With six constitutional amendments on November’s statewide ballot, and two more scheduled for 2014, some of New York’s top constitutional experts will gather at SUNY Cortland Thursday, Sept. 19, to discuss the reasons for these proposals and their potential impact.

The conference also will consider whether voters should hold a state constitutional convention in the next few years to change the fundamental document that has guided New York’s governance for more than two centuries. Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner will give the keynote address on the 50th anniversary of Constitutional Home Rule, an amendment that dramatically strengthened the authority of local governments.

People interested in attending can do so here:

“The time is right for this discussion,” said Henry Steck, Distinguished Service Professor at SUNY Cortland. “On Tuesday, Sept. 17, we will celebrate our federal government’s founding document with Constitution Day, and on Thursday, Sept. 19, we will consider the New York State Constitution. This is our foundational blueprint, the outline of our basic rights as New Yorkers and our governmental how-to manual. Obscure for many New Yorkers? Yes. Critically important? Absolutely! SUNY Cortland is honored to host this important event for the whole community.”

The Cortland conference, titled “A New New York: The Constitutional Dimension,” is sponsored by, Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO) at SUNY New Paltz, the Institute for Civic Engagement at SUNY Cortland and the SUNY Cortland Political Science Department.

The conference will examine the constitutional amendments that will be on the statewide ballot in November. It will look ahead to 2017 and the required ballot initiative asking voters to consider whether to hold a constitutional convention to weigh critical state government reforms. The event also will address Constitutional Home Rule, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

“In 2017, as it is every twenty years, the question of whether or not to have a state constitutional convention will be on the ballot for voters to decide,” said Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton of the 125th Assembly District. “It is not too early to begin the discussion about what is at stake in that decision, and so I’m glad to be part of this panel with people of diverse views which will, I hope, begin to educate New Yorkers about both the potential and the pitfalls of such a state convention. I am confident it will be an interesting discussion.”

The conference speakers and panelists will include:

  • Gerald Benjamin, director of CRREO at SUNY New Paltz and leading state constitution expert;
  • Christopher Bopst, co-editor, The New York State Constitution, 2nd edition;
  • Henrik “Hank” Dullea, SUNY trustee;
  • Peter Galie, emeritus professor of political science at Canisius College, leading expert on state constitutional history, and co-editor The New York State Constitution, 2nd edition;
  • Carl Hayden, former chair, SUNY Board of Trustees and New York State Board of Regents;
  • Brian Kolb, minority leader, New York State Assembly;
  • Barbara Lifton, New York State Assembly;
  • Mayor Miner, City of Syracuse;
  • Bill Samuels, co-founder, and founder, New Roosevelt;
  • Steck, Distinguished Service Professor and political science professor, SUNY Cortland; and,
  • Mayor Brian Tobin, City of Cortland.

“Few people understand the crucial role of state constitutions in our federal system,” Benjamin, of SUNY New Paltz, said. “The unprecedented number of constitutional amendments proposed to the voters by the legislature this year and next offers a special opportunity to educate the public on what is in the State Constitution, why it is there, whether change is needed, and if so, how it may be achieved.”

“Elected representatives should not only uphold the State Constitution, but give thoughtful and comprehensive consideration on reforms that serve the public’s best interest,” said New York State Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb, R,C,I-Canandaigua. “With six constitutional amendments to be voted on this fall, I look forward to an engaging and open discussion about these critical issues. This forum in Cortland is an opportunity to further discuss reforming our state government and the potential need for convening a constitutional convention in 2017.”

“We are pleased to help fund the conference,” said Bill Samuels, co-founder of Effective NY and founder of New Roosevelt. “Continuing to improve upon our State Constitution is essential to maintaining a vital and efficient government in Albany for the people. Reforming the constitution is a key step in helping to restoring trust and confidence in Albany and to make it the best legislature in the country.”

The conference will feature two panel discussions. The first will focus on the constitutional issues in anticipation of the 2013 November election, where voters will consider ballot initiatives dealing with the State Constitution. The second considers more generally what could, or should, be removed from the current constitution in a future constitutional convention.

New Roosevelt Foundation has helped provide funding for the conference.


Bill Samuels Encourages Moreland Commission to Ask Top Campaign Fundraising Officials for Governor Cuomo and Statewide Elected Officials to Testify about How Money is Raised From Corporations, LLCs, and Major Individual Donors Who Do Business with New York

October 4th, 2013

Albany, NY— In a continued effort to paint the full picture of how campaign donations intersect with governing in New York State , good government reform advocate Bill Samuels, co-founder of EffectiveNY, ( urged the commission to solicit public testimony from the top campaign fundraising officials to Governor Cuomo and other statewide elected officials and answer questions about how they raise money from corporations, LLCs and major individual donors who conduct business with, or are regulated by, the state government.

“I find it hard to believe that 779 corporations, and all opaque LLCs just picked up the phone and said, ‘We want to make a campaign contribution to the Governor’s reelection campaign or the state party committee,’ Samuels said.

“The Commission should be able to ask these top political operatives very detailed and specific questions about the procedures and manner in which they raise money on behalf of their official’s election campaign committee.”

To that end, Samuels said the commission should be able to subpoena any relevant individuals in order to “follow the money” and understand the intricate role that it plays in fostering potential corruption within the state. “If we are to truly understand how money influences not just politics but the actual governing and legislative process, the Moreland Commission must be able to use all available powers to call to before them the top campaign fundraisers for all statewide elected officials, the Governor included.”

“In addition, in order for the Moreland Commission to have credibility and do its job properly there must be a fire wall between the Commission and any individuals inside the Cuomo Administration or other NYS-elected officials who may attempt to influence or discourage their work and where it may lead them. This is a historic opportunity and it deserves to be perceived as totally independent.”

“And while there may be no instances of out and out corruption, this information will provide New Yorkers a valuable piece of the puzzle to better understand the long-standing ‘pay to play’ culture that exists in the state.”

NYSUT’s Iannuzzi: Tax commission can address inequalities

October 4th, 2013

New York State United Teachers President Richard C. Iannuzzi today released the following statement on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appointment of a Tax Relief Commission:

“NYSUT welcomes the new Tax Relief Commission and looks forward to its collaboration with the Tax Reform and Fairness Commission. I am confident that an unbiased and comprehensive review of the state’s taxation policy will lead to a fuller understanding of the unfair tax burden placed on the shrinking middle class in New York state, and a realization that a significantly more progressive income tax and less-destructive property tax cap are key factors in achieving wide-scale economic growth. Wealth inequality and income inequality must be addressed by government action if we are to reach the shared prosperity all New Yorkers deserve.”

NYSUT, the state’s largest union, represents more than 600,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education and health care and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

Statement by Michael Kink, Executive Director of the Strong Economy for All Coalition on Governor Cuomo’s Tax Relief Commission

October 4th, 2013

New Yorkers deserve a full-spectrum attack on income inequality: fairer taxes, better wages, more jobs and investments in education and infrastructure to build the future. The failed policies of the past just don’t work — we don’t need more tax cuts for the rich and big corporations, we need direct help for working families and those struggling to make it into the middle class.

As Governor, Pataki took the state tax system from progressive and fair to regressive and unfair, helped create the property tax crisis, and oversaw an explosion in income inequality. If he’s seen the errors of his ways, that’s one thing. If not, it’s like bringing in Godzilla to oversee the rebuilding from a Godzilla attack.

New York has increased corporate tax loopholes by 25% over the past four years, and is now spending an all-time high of $7 billion on corporate subsidies and tax breaks — and we’re only growing low-wage jobs. More of the same just won’t work. We don’t need more tax breaks for big corporations, we need investments in the job creation and our future instead.

The Commission should focus on closing corporate tax loopholes, helping low-income and middle-class families, and broadening prosperity through fairer and more progressive state and local tax structures. Economic fairness is what New Yorkers need, want and deserve from their government.

BFC Partners Fact Sheet

September 30th, 2013

Brooklyn-based BFC Partners has a history of poor quality construction at multiple developments as well as a reliance on irresponsible construction contractors who break the law and undermine wages, benefits and training standards for workers.

Tenants Complain About Poor Quality Construction

  • Tenants of a BFC development in Harlem have spent a decade trying to get BFC to fix long-term construction problems at their building, including structural defects resulting in leakage and water penetration issues. In 2006 residents able to secure an agreement with BFC, brokered by then-Attorney General Spitzer, to fix the outstanding issues.  Despite this agreement, the residents maintain that BFC’s repairs have been substandard and have even exacerbated the building’s structural deficiencies.
  • Purchasers of a condominium in BFC’s Williamsburg development, Schaefer Landing, filed a lawsuit in 2009 claiming BFC and other named defendants defectively designed and constructed their building and then attempted to conceal these conditions.  The suit is ongoing.

BFC and Its Contractors Sued for Illegal Employment Practices

  • BFC Accused of Wage and Hour Violations, Discrimination and Hostile Work Environment
    • In 2008 BFC Partners and other defendants were sued by a former worker who alleged that the Defendants violated state and federal minimum wage and overtime laws, permitted sexual harassment to occur, fostered a hostile work environment and then fired the employee for complaining about her illegal treatment, in violation of NYC and NYS Human Rights Law. The suit was later settled out of court.
  • BFC Contractors Commit Wage and Hour Violations & Workers Compensation Fraud:
    • BFC has a history of hiring irresponsible construction contractors that break the law, undermine area standard wages and benefits and do not participate in state-approved training and apprenticeship programs.
    • Violating Overtime Laws
      • Super Structure Builders, owned by Thomas Auringer, was hired by BFC Partners to build the Toren, a luxury condominium in downtown Brooklyn.  Super Structure and other Auringer companies have a troubling record of illegal behavior.
  • Auringer and eight separate companies that he owns are currently facing a class action lawsuit filed by employees who claim the company systematically violated federal minimum wage and overtime laws.
  • According to a 2008 Village Voice article, employees at the Toren were working over seventy hours a week without receiving pay for all hours worked and that Auringer illegally threatened and coerced workers who attempted to join a union at a neighboring construction site.
  • In 2008, employees of another Auringer company, SSB Hoist, filed a class action complaint alleging massive violations of federal overtime law. The suit was settled in 2009.
  • In 2009, local NYC television station MY 9 TV ran an expose on Auringer’s pay practices, “stiffing immigrant workers” reporting that one of his companies had been forced to pay $30,000 in back wages.
      • In 2009, employees of BFC contractor Ro-Sal Plumbing and Heating filed a class action complaint against Ro-Sal alleging that owners knowingly refused to pay overtime wages from 2003 to 2009.  Ro-Sal eventually settled out of court for no more than $1.5 million dollars.
    • Workers Compensation Fraud
      • BFC contract S&J Industrial Corp was placed on the New York State Debarment List for violating New York State Worker’s Compensation Law and will be barred from performing work on public contracts until 2014.

DOB Cites BFC for Dangerous Construction Practices

Recent BFC Projects have been cited numerous times by the Department of Buildings for dangerous construction practices that put the workers and the public at risk.

  • The Toren

BFC developed the Toren condominiums at 150 Myrtle Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn from 2008 to 2011. Between August 2008 and November 2009, the Department of Buildings wrote up thirty-seven violations on the project including eleven stop work orders and partial stop work orders totaling almost $38,000 in penalties and fines.

The Department of Buildings issued a stop work order citing dangerous work conditions at the site after the FDNY reported that a worker fell ten feet in between floors. The stop work order was rescinded after violating conditions were corrected.

Additional stop work orders and partial stop work orders were issued for the following:

  • A hoist emergency break failed and the hoist fell seven floors
  • Operating a crane without a certificate
  • Welding without a valid license
  • Failing to have a safety manager on site
  • Failing to safeguard the public and the property by failing to provide overheard protection.

These stop work orders and partial stop work orders were eventually rescinded when the violations were corrected.

  • Jupiter 21

BFC developed Jupiter 21 at 21 East 1st Street in the East Village in 2011 and 2012.  During Jupiter 21’s construction, contractors at the site were cited by the Department of Buildings fifteen times in less than a year for unsafe construction practices.  For example, In December of 2011, the site was issued a Full Stop Work Order after a section of the roof collapsed and pieces of debris hit a worker. The stop work order was rescinded after the violation was corrected.