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The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union

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City Council Stated Meeting Reports Archive

Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union
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Every two weeks the New York City Council meets for what is called the Stated Meeting to introduce and pass legislation. A report on the meeting is posted the next morning.

November 18, 2010
Council Approves Agency Merger

By approving the merger of two agencies dealing with young people, the City Council hopes New York will better serve troubled kids, save money and shut a notorious detention center.

October 28, 2010
Council Unveils Domestic Violence Stats

Following a recent rash of brutal hate crimes, the City Council moved to put statistics on bias attacks and domestic violence on line.

October 14, 2010
Council Tries to Plug Some leaks

City Council tried to plug leaks in the city's water supply yesterday with a package of conservation bills. But several Republicans say they go too far.

September 30, 2010
Green Light!

Shining a light on electricity usage, the City Council approved a package of legislation Wednesday that aims to increase efficiency, including a bill requiring commercial properties to use light sensors.

July 30, 2010
Council Moves to Increase Recycling

The City Council passed several bills yesterday to boost New York's low recycling rate and keep trash out of the landfill. Members also OK'd two controversial development projects.

May 26, 2010
Fines for Unlicensed Plumbing

The City Council approved a bill yesterday to increase fines for unlicensed plumbing and fire suppression work.

February 4, 2010
Council Creates Path to Citizenship

The City Council is considering a proposal aimed at helping some immigrant children in foster care remain in the country.

January 22, 2010
The Council's New Order

Kicking off a new term, the City Council finalized its new committees yesterday -- but not without drama. See who is in and who is out.

January 7, 2010
2010 City Council's First Day

The new City Council, flush with 13 new members, re-elected Council Speaker Christine Quinn. But the vote was not without emotion and drama.

December 22, 2009
Broadway Triangle Approved by Council

The City Council approved a controversial rezoning, which community members cast as a political deal despite its promise of affordable housing.

December 15, 2009
Kingsbridge Armory Defeated by the Council

In a rare move against a major project, the City Council rejected a proposal to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, putting the debate over paying living wages under a citywide spotlight.

December 10, 2009
Green Building Bills Approved by the Council

The City Council passed legislation requiring energy audits for large buildings -- a move that some critics say weakens a key part of the mayor's sustainability plan.

December 1, 2009
Clearing the Way for Open Grills

The City Council yesterday banned those opaque sheets of metal used as security gates on businesses around the city, but the measure will not go completely into effect until 2026. Council also approved its final legislative response to the deadly fire at Deutsche Bank in 2007.

November 17, 2009
Easing Parking Rules and Opposing Gas Drilling

In its first meeting since the election, City Council took aim at the administration's policies on issuing traffic tickets, passing four bills, including one the mayor has vowed to veto. The council also approved a new police academy and went on record against drilling for natural gas in the city's watershed.

October 29, 2009
Hines Midtown Tower Approved

The City Council approves a 1,000 foot tower in Midtown, which will include additional space for MoMA, a hotel and luxury residences. The council also took aim at mortgage foreclosure consultants.

October 15, 2009
Council Bans Flavored Tobacco

Just weeks after the federal government banned flavored cigarettes, the City Council goes a step further.

October 1, 2009
Graffiti Cleanup and Rezoning Sunset Park

The City Council attempts to make graffiti cleanup faster and rezones a large swath of Sunset Park.

September 18, 2009
Sitting in Smog on the Way to School

The City Council approved a bill yesterday making a student's ride to school a little cleaner. Check out that and more in this week’s Searchlight on City Hall.

August 21, 2009
City Council Requires Pharmacies to Translate

Handing out its own prescription for language access, the City Council approved legislation Thursday requiring large pharmacy chains to provide translation services in the city's most popular languages.

July 30, 2009
Coney Island Gets a Facelift

In an attempt to revitalize an area long known as "America's playground," the City Council approved a 27-acre redevelopment plan to turn Coney Island into a year-round destination, full of retail, hotels and entertainment.
Call it Las Vegas a la Brooklyn.

June 11, 2009
Dumbo's Dock Street Project Approved

In a rare move, the City Council approved a development project despite the vocal opposition of the local council member. Councilmember David Yassky opposes the project, known as Dock Street Dumbo because, he says, it will permanently taint the view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

May 21, 2009
Keeping Eyes on the Tenant Watch List

Patrick and Tari Kelly had no idea they were blacklisted.
They were Midtown subletters for two years, until their temporary landlord decided to renovate the building. They moved to Queens and six years later tried to relocate again to Washington Heights.

May 7, 2009
Scratching Out Etching Acid

Carving out another obstacle for graffiti "vandals," the City Council approved legislation Wednesday requiring that merchants selling etching acid keep purchasers' personal information for a year.

April 3, 2009
Council Moves to Protect Access to Clinics

In an attempt to clear a path for patients at reproductive clinics, the City Council approved legislation strengthening the city's clinic access law, allowing police to arrest protesters that harass those seeking medical care.

New Council Bills - 05/31/06

Hybrid Taxis - 05/24/06

Taxi Bills 05/10/06

Emerging Business Enterprise Bill 05/10/06

Gas Station Regulations 04/26/06

Stadium Financing 04/26/06

Street Electrocutions 04/05/06

Yankee Stadium 04/05/06

Lobbying Reform 03/22/06

The Council's Budget 03/22/06

Quinn's First Veto Override 03/01/06

Land Use and New Bills 02/15/06

Rules of the Council 02/01/06

Appointments of New York City Council Standing Committees 01/18/06

Quinn Elected as Speaker 1/04/05

Three Veto Overrides 12/08/05

Rejecting Landmark Warehouse in Brooklyn 11/30/05

Donations from Labor Unions 11/16/05

Financing for West Side of Manhattan 10/27/05

Health Insurance for Grocery Workers 10/11/05

Day Labor and Hindu Holiday 9/28/05

Green Buildings and Human Rights Law 9/15/05

Grocery Store Health Care 8/17/05

Free Sunday Parking 7/27/05

2006 Budget 6/30/05

Garbage Plan Revisited 6/23/05

Garbage Plan 6/08/05

Bathroom Parity 5/25/05

West Side Stadium Financing 5/11/05

Pollution; Allan Jennings Censure 4/20/05

AIDS Housing 4/12/05

School Construction 3/23/05

Child Safety 3/09/05

Defibrillators 2/16/05

West Side Rezoning 1/19/05

Gun Control 1/05/05

Film Tax Credits 12/15/04

School Nurses 12/07/04

Endangered Species 11/23/04

School Crime 11/14/04

Campaign Finance 10/27/04

IKEA Store 10/13/04

Filtration Plant 9/28/04

Church Parking Zoning 9/09/04

Overdevelopment Measure 8/12/04

Car Alarm Ban 07/21/04

Brooklyn Rezoning 06/28/04

Building Codes 06/07/04

Contract Reform 05/19/04

Equal Benefits Bill 05/05/04

Airport Lease 04/21/04

Budget Modification 03/24/04

Council's Costs 03/10/04

Lead Paint Veto 02/04/04

Lead Paint Law Passed 12/15/03

Rezoning Staten Island 12/03/03

Tish James Sworn In 11/19/03

Absentee Landlord Tax 11/06/03

Landmarking Cathedral 10/24/03

Newsstand Bill 10/15/03

Sports Fan Bill 09/30/03

Accessible Taxi Cabs 11/17/03

Adopt-A-Park 08/19/03

City Hall Shooting 07/23/03

Illegal Awnings 06/25/03

Water Filtration Plant 06/12/03

Budget Negotiations 06/05/03

Sales Tax Increase 05/28/03

Emergency Center 05/14/03

Tax Increases 05/05/03

Park Slope Rezoning 04/30/03

Welfare Education Bill 04/09/03

Environmental Bills 03/26/03

Anti-War Resolution 03/12/03

Contraception Bill 2/26/03

Cell Phone Bill 02/12/03

Good Government Bills 01/29/03

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Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Maid In America

By Tracey Middlekauff

When Marjina, a young Bangladeshi woman working as a live-in housekeeper for an Indian family in Dubai, was invited to accompany the family to live and work in the U.S., she jumped at the opportunity. To her, America meant money and freedom. But soon after she arrived to begin her new life, Marjina says her dreams quickly dissolved.

"I thought they would treat me like a family member," she says, speaking in her native Bengali through an interpreter. "But I was lied to."

At the time, Marjina was unaware that she, like any domestic worker -- documented or undocumented -- was legally entitled to a work environment free from exploitation and abuse. But unfortunately, employers often thumb their noses at the law and ignore the rights of their domestic help.

Indeed, Marjina describes a grueling work schedule with little or no compensation. 18-hour days on Monday to Friday, 8-hour days on her "days off" during the weekend. She says she was never allowed to eat until the family was finished, she was forced to sleep in the basement with no mattress, and she was made to shovel snow in the cold Teaneck, N.J. winter wearing the only shoes she brought with her from Dubai: sandals. During this time, she says "I didn't even know what a U.S. dollar looked like."

Marjina found an advocate in one of her employers' friends, who located a Bangladeshi family in need of her services. But according to Marjina, things went from bad to worse.

Her new employers forced her to work similar backbreaking hours, Marjina says, and promised to pay her a meager $400 per month, most of which she never received. She was never allowed to leave on her own, and alleges she was physically abused by the couple's mentally impaired son. After three months, Marjina finally demanded payment, upon which she was locked in a basement, then ordered to leave with only $375 cash.

Distraught and frightened, with no English and little money, Marjina got on a bus, where she finally found some luck. The driver spoke Hindi, and he took Marjina to an Indian store where the owner called for help. Subsequently, Marjina was put in contact with Andolan, a Queens-based South Asian workers' rights group. Last fall Marjina filed a lawsuit against her former employers, who deny all her allegations.

LONG HOURS, LOW WAGES

Marjina's story is not an isolated one, according to many advocates for workers' rights, or even a particularly extreme example of the abuse that many immigrant domestic workers face on a daily basis. Ai-jen Poo, program director at the Women Workers Project of the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence in Manhattan, says that, "It's the norm that people are subjected to long hours, little or no overtime pay, low wages, little privacy and a difficult environment." For live-in domestic workers, things are even worse. "(These workers) are often on call 24-7," Poo says.

The problem is extremely difficult to quantify accurately, because several groups, including the New York City-based South Asian Workers Rights Project, are only now starting to gather the hard data.

Experts estimate that ninety-five percent of immigrant domestic workers are women of color, half of them undocumented, and in many cases they work for people of their own ethnicity. Typically, Caribbean and Latin American immigrants will find jobs with white families through an agency, whereas Asian women, particularly South Asian women, will find jobs in upper class Asian families through direct ads in South Asian newspapers. "The Asian-American community is much more insular, and tends to hire more undocumented workers," says Chaumtoli Huq, an attorney working with the South Asian Workers Rights Project. When an Indian family hires an Indian domestic, Huq says, what separates them is not ethnicity, obviously, but class.

USING THEIR IMMIGRANT STATUS AGAINST THEM

The worker/employer relationship is inherently based on an imbalance of power, an imbalance which employers often use to intimidate their employees and prevent them from leaving. "If employers can, they will use immigration status as an added weapon," says Nadia Marin-Molina of Workplace Project.

This can take the form of an employer confiscating a worker's passport, keeping a worker in the house to keep them ignorant of their rights and out of contact with potential allies, threatening to turn an undocumented worker over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and holding out false promises of a green card. Molina tells of one worker who was promised green card sponsorship by her employer. After 10 years of working for low wages, she found out that her employer had never even taken the first step to sponsor her. And in any case, according to Chaumtoli Huq, getting a green card rarely happens at all for a domestic worker, and even if it does, it takes from ten to 15 years.

One might assume that even the most vindictive employers would hesitate to turn an undocumented employee over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, because they could be fined thousands of dollars for having violated the law by hiring the worker in the first place. But the standard to determine if an employer should be fined, Huq says, is whether the employer knowingly hired an undocumented worker. All the employer has to do is say they were ignorant of their employee's work status.

Ai-jen Poo believes that employers take advantage of their domestic workers simply because they can. "We have to change the culture where all the power lies in the hands of an employer," she says. Poo points out that domestic work is traditionally seen as women's work, which is devalued. "The work these women are doing completely enables every other industry to function -- it's crucial," she says. "But it's not seen that way."

WORKERS' RIGHTS

Whatever society's perceptions of the value of domestic work, one fact is certain: domestic workers, both documented and undocumented, are legally entitled to the same basic rights any U.S. citizen should expect. According to a pamphlet for workers put out by the Women Workers Project, these rights include (but should not be limited to) workers' compensation insurance, short term disability benefits, minimum wage, overtime, meal breaks and one full day off each week.

The problem is, many workers are not aware of these basic rights, and even if they are, fear of employer retribution may prevent them from seeking help. In New York, several groups provide representation, education and outreach to domestic workers in need.

The Women Workers Project has recently initiated an effort to institute a standard, industry-wide contract for domestic workers. While Ai-jen Poo admits that such a contract may be difficult to enforce, she stresses the need for a standard model and organized support. Such an effort is dependent on numbers; the more workers who are armed with the contract, the better. Although the contract effort is in its infancy, Poo says thousands of copies have already been distributed to workers.

Chamtoli Huq cites two important elements in creating a better work environment for domestic workers. One is to support the contract campaign and the viability of enforcing such a contract, and the second is to push for legislative change, such as the bill passed in the House May 9 that would offer protection from deportation to domestic workers who sue their employers. The bill, authored by Congressmen Christopher Smith (R-Trenton) and Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn), is currently awaiting a Senate vote.

But community outreach organizations remain a crucial element in the fight for domestic workers' rights, because before a worker can take advantage of any of their rights, they must first learn what those rights are.

MARJINA

Shortly after Marjina met Andolan's co-founder, Nahar Alam, she found work with a new family, and says she is now "very happy" with them. But even though she currently makes $1,000 a month, Alam points out that this is not even minimum wage given the hours Marjina works. Marjina still gets no holidays. "It's still not enough," Alam says.

Marjina says that she knows her rights now, and "will tell other people to go to organizations (like Andolan) when they come to this country." As for what she endured when she first arrived, she says, "Until the day I die, I'll remember this experience."

Tracey Middlekauff is a journalist living in Brooklyn.

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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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