Gotham Gazette Tue, 17 Oct 2017 18:26:50 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Give New York Manufacturers the Space They Need manufacturing background

photo: William Alatriste

In November, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito released a manufacturing policy that makes a strong commitment to the city’s Industrial Business Zones (IBZs). This is the culmination of a growing consensus among certain sectors of the city, from the Progressive Caucus of the City Council to the Hotel Trades Council the editorial board of Crain’s NY Business.

The ten-point plan includes investments in city-owned manufacturing facilities such as the Navy Yard, the creation of a shared advanced manufacturing incubation space, and, controversially, strengthening the prohibition of residential uses within IBZs. Naturally, however, some developers and real estate investors are skeptical, according to Politico New York:

"Several developers…were predictably troubled by the idea that they could not build apartments and condos in these zones … “There are areas of the city that manufacturing is never going to return to. With the housing crisis being what it is, it doesn’t make sense to preserve them for jobs that aren’t coming,” said one developer."

Steve Cuozzo at the Post goes farther, calling it “delusional:”

"What’s looney is the misallocated priority. While the city moves at a snail’s pace to rezone East Midtown, chief engine of the city’s tax base, and buries shopkeepers and small businesses under an avalanche of fines and regulations, it’s throwing the kitchen sink into massaging a sector that counts for peanuts in relation to a financial-, media- and service-driven economy."

As outlined by Saskia Sassen in The Global City, New York’s economy today, like most global cities, is built on producer services like finance, law, and marketing, which make New York into a command-and-control center for the global economy. When Cuozzo tells us to focus on rezoning East Midtown and the “financial- media- and service-driven economy” that operates there, he is arguing that New York should further specialize in producer services, on the assumption that they can sustain the city’s economy and finances indefinitely.

It’s natural to ask, why not? Why make space for manufacturing, when other sectors are contributing so much to the region’s economy, and with affordable housing in such short supply?

For one, cities need manufacturing. Urban production is a self-sustaining engine of prosperity. Not large-scale industrial monocultures like the Detroit auto industry in the “big three” era, but a large variety of small manufacturers buying and selling to one another, like New York’s economy was built on.

As Jane Jacobs argues in The Economy of Cities and Cities and the Wealth of Nations, with support from many economists, cities grow and thrive when small enterprises start producing things they previously imported from other cities, creating new markets for suppliers, maintenance, and distributors, while creating knowledge spillovers that lead to new innovation. The cycle continues as the new imports are replaced in turn. This cycle, she argues, is the very process of economic development.

Jacobs even went so far as to criticize Mayor Bloomberg’s rezoning of Greenpoint and Williamsburg in the last year of her long life, in part because it robbed the neighborhood of manufacturing land. Even Bloomberg recognized the importance of production, since his administration created the IBZs and, with great success, redeveloped the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a productive manufacturing space.

Producer services may result in high profits, but the majority of working-class jobs they create are precarious, low-wage service jobs. Without manufacturing jobs to fill the gap, workers can’t keep up with the rising rents and fares on the paltry wages they make mopping floors and mixing lattes. Fighting back against that inequality, whether through struggles for a $15 minimum wage, against racist police violence, and to preserve and expand affordable housing are crucial. So is building a stronger, more sustainable economic base for working-class New Yorkers.

To create that base, the city must reserve space for job-creating production to occur. Forget the market balancing supply and demand: in such a hot market, there is more demand for various land uses than the city will ever have the square footage to supply. Without public action, only the highest-margin uses will win out, so reserving space for manufacturing, just as it does for affordable housing, is exactly what the city should be doing. Affordable housing, public services, and manufacturing all contribute to the needs, prosperity and culture of the city, but if they are caught in a bidding war with finance and high-end real estate, they will lose. The city isn’t just a space to consume, it’s a place to produce.

Matthew Rigney is a Master of City and Regional Planning Candidate at Rutgers University.

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Give New York Manufacturers the Space They Need Tue, 26 Jan 2016 03:51:27 +0000
De Blasio Releases Cautious $82 Billion Preliminary Budget de blasio presents preliminary budget FY17

De Blasio presents his budget (Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office) 

New York City's fiscal year begins July 1. As the city moves toward a fiscal year 2017 budget agreement between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council by June 30, the mayor began the process on Thursday when he unveiled his preliminary budget, which comes in at $82.1 billion.

De Blasio didn't outline any major new initiatives, instead focusing on fiscal discipline, building reserves, and making "targeted investments," including in major areas the city has already announced new programs and significant monetary investment.

De Blasio took pains to stress the need for caution given some larger economic warning signs and an inevitable slowdown of a what has been a bullish economy yielding strong job gains and massive overall revenues for the city. Still, the budget has grown by more than 10 percent since de Blasio took office - in no small part due, though, to the fact that the mayor came into office with none of the municipal unions under current contracts and has negotiated about 94 percent of the workforce into deals.

De Blasio admitted it was a relatively "boring" budget, but said "it's a good boring," explaining that "a lot of what we're focused on is moving the agenda we started in the first two years: the affordable housing plan, the Equity and Excellence agenda for our schools...the neighborhood policing plan – I mean, we don't need to always have splashy new things when we feel that the choices we've made are going to have a huge impact if we implement them right. So this year's going to be a lot about implementing the pieces that are already underway and making sure they reach people – Vision Zero, obviously."

While saying the administration is adding funds to back his ongoing housing, education, and other equity-focused initiatives, de Blasio also highlighted new spending "such as $12.1 million in expense funds for 327 new Traffic Enforcement Agents that will improve traffic flow and safety, and $868 million in capital to reduce school overcrowding through 11,800 new seats."

The city is adding money to fund an increase in the minimum wage for city employees, its increasing homelessness-fighting efforts, the new mental health roadmap that First Lady Chirlane McCray is spearheading, and additional school literacy coaches, park security agents, and correction officers.

De Blasio explained that along with several hundred million dollars in added spending, the budget shows $1 billion in savings, including about $400 million from debt consolidation and $500 million from agency cuts.

Still, de Blasio said he's strongly considering instituting a PEG - program to eliminate the gap - for his Executive Budget, which would require all his agencies to identify potential savings of a set amount, followed by the mayor deciding what to cut. About half the City Council recently recommended that the mayor use a PEG, which he has eschewed thus far over his three years, but was a mainstay of prior mayors.

"We think $5 billion is a very healthy number given a typical – if you'll forgive the phrase – a typical economic downturn," de Blasio said of what the city now has in reserves, which he said is an unprecedented number. "They're the most substantial reserves the city has ever had."

The city could need more than $5 billion, though, if there is a significant economic downturn. The mayor said he's "going to be looking at the Executive Budget in terms of the question of agency savings" through a PEG.

Of the mayor's budget, the president of the Citizens Budget Commission, Carol Kellermann, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, "It raises spending without significant offsetting savings and/or increases in reserves. The Mayor acknowledged and warned of the risks to the budget in the event of a downturn and said that there will be a serious effort at agency savings between now and the Executive Budget. We look forward to hearing about the results of that effort."

De Blasio argued that he was striking the right balance. "You know, the trick here is we have to protect against future dangers while continuing to build our economy," he said, "and obviously addressing the quality of life and the needs of New Yorkers. When we build our economy, that brings in revenue."

"I'm a lot more concerned than I was this time a year ago," de Blasio said about economic risks, even though he had expressed fairly strong concerns last year, citing the potential effects of terrorism, a slowdown of the Chinese economy and the U.S. stock market, and more.

Some of where the city heads in its process will of course be dictated by the state budget - which is due by April 1. Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his Executive Budget last week, including several items pleasing to de Blasio and many New York City leaders and advocates, but also a few key potentially costly provisions.

Those possible cuts include to the funding the state sends back to the city for CUNY and Medicaid payments. Gov. Cuomo has indicated that his plans on those two fronts "won't cost the city a penny" and that he was putting ideas forward to collaborate on finding efficiencies in these two cases where the city and state run the programs together.

"I'm not saying we don't have to worry about it," de Basio told reporters of the possible cuts in state aid to the two programs. "I'm saying I am taking the governor at his word, and I will hold him to that word...He said he wants to find collaborative process to find reforms and savings."

De Blasio heads to Albany on Tuesday, where he will testify at a joint legislative budget hearing of Senate and Assembly finance committee members.

Soon, the City Council begins several weeks of preliminary budget hearings, leading up to its official response, which will come in an April letter. Other watchdogs, both in and outside of government, will weigh in throughout the process - including Comptroller Scott Stringer, who will release his preliminary budget analysis within the next few weeks.

The mayor will take into account these and other factors, and release his Executive Budget in late April or early May, leading to another round of City Council budget hearings, negotiations, and a deal. 

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

De Blasio Releases Cautious $82 Billion Preliminary Budget Fri, 22 Jan 2016 00:35:02 +0000
City Council Developing New Protections for Workers in ‘Gig’ Economy lander car wash workers

Council Member Lander with carwash workers (photo: William Alatriste)

There are more than 1.3 million freelancers working in New York City and with the help of the City Council, these workers may soon be afforded certain protections on par with full-time workers.

Initially focused on wage protection and health benefits, Council members and advocates are also looking at legislation to expand collective bargaining rights to certain groups of workers in the “gig” economy.

The on-demand economy of such workers has mushroomed in the city with Uber and Lyft drivers, cleaners, and the more traditional writers, graphic designers, and other artists. These temporary, “for-hire” workers largely perform their various efforts without the benefits of job security, health insurance, pension buy-in, or paid sick leave. Even their wages are regularly not guaranteed. Eight out of ten freelancers have complained of being victims of late payment or non-payment of wages according to reports compiled by the Freelancers Union.

With the City Council aggressively tackling workforce issues, Council Member Brad Lander, a Democrat who represents part of Brooklyn, has taken the lead in developing legislation to help people in the gig economy.

Lander is working with the New York City-based Freelancers Union to create a legislative framework for wage protection for freelance employees. In September, He appeared at a Brooklyn town hall hosted by the Freelancers Union to launch the #FreelanceIsntFree campaign, seeking to raise awareness and push for legislation.

“It has very real dark sides to it,” Lander said in a recent phone interview with Gotham Gazette, referring to freelancing and the company payment cycles that cause hardships for freelancers. “The rent is due and you still gotta put groceries on the table,” he said.

Lander believes that the best possible scenario would be a “cutting edge,” enforceable administrative solution, similar to protections guaranteed by the state Department of Labor and the Attorney General. Currently, the only legal recourse freelancers have is civil court, an expensive and time-consuming option. Lander wants to introduce a bill within the next two months.

But worker protections go beyond simply wages and Lander has found support from his colleagues for other ideas. Lander and Council Member Corey Johnson are working closely with the New York City Taxi Workers Alliance on a “drivers benefit fund” that would use a small fare surcharge to provide health benefits to for-hire drivers. After wage protections for freelancers, drafting this legislation is Lander’s next priority; and with the city looking at rules reform for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, he said this “is a good time to move it forward.”

Inevitably, workforce issues revolve in some important way around organized labor. On-demand gig workers are by their very nature unorganized. That’s where the Freelancers Union stepped in and now the City Council is moving toward creating new worker protections.

Eyeing Seattle, where a City Council member is pushing a bill to allow taxi drivers, for-hire drivers, and those from ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to unionize and exercise collective bargaining, Lander is considering a similar path in New York.

Uber’s success in the city, and its disruption of the long-standing taxi/black car marketplace, has garnered the for-hire industry new attention. The ability for drivers, who are seen as independent contractors, to unionize would change the game for thousands, and the company, of course.

Uber has added more than 20,000 cars to their service in the last three years and also handled more than 100,000 rides each day in July, four times its record from last year.  During a summer face-off between city lawmakers and Uber, the Mayor de Blasio and the City Council brought about a temporary detente by landing on a four-month study of the effects of ride-sharing companies like Uber (and no cap on the growth of the industry). The results of that study are due soon and will likely play an important role in the future of ride-sharing in the city.

An Uber representative declined to comment for this story.

The city’s efforts to create space for independent contractors to unionize may run up against federal law. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 protects the right of employees to collectively bargain with their employers. It lays down specific definitions for employees and employers which could preempt local jurisdictions from taking action since independent contractors do not qualify under the law’s criteria.

A class-action lawsuit brought by three drivers in California against Uber highlights this basic issue. The drivers are arguing for benefits as employees of the company while Uber maintains they are independent contractors who are not eligible for these benefits, and therefore should not have received class-action status. 

“Seattle’s leading the way,” said Council Member Lander. The proposed legislation in Seattle would create a precedent and likely face numerous legal challenges. Lander recognizes this fact. Even though the NLRA preempts the City Council from legislating, he believes there is room for cities to take action for workers not covered under the federal legislation. Currently there is no draft legislation but Lander said any proposal would attempt to protect workers across the on-demand economy and not just specific companies.

(He also talked of changes to the city’s human rights laws to clarify the workers covered. He said this could happen in the next few months after these initial bills.)

The Council recently took controversial action to help car wash workers unionize, but that is being challenged in court.

Council Member I. Daneek Miller is firmly in support of any proposal that would help on-demand drivers organize. As a former labor union leader, Miller’s perspective on the issue is decidedly pro-labor, and his position as chair of the Council's civil service and labor committee puts him at the front lines in addressing it. 

“The whole concept of the shared economy has to be put into perspective,” Miller told Gotham Gazette. “I don’t think it’s a sustainable model.”

He said the “irony” of the situation is that the shared, gig economy is contributing to its own demise and disempowerment -- a younger generation with few responsibilities finds flexibility and mobility attractive and then later on when people want security, they find themselves left out in the cold.

For the system to work, he said, there need to be checks and balances in the form of collective bargaining and the right to organize.

“I’m less inclined to create public policy legislation around this,” he said about the issue of unionization, perhaps recognizing the challenges involved. “We’ll let them do their job and give them the tools to support them. We’ve got our finger on the pulse of organized labor.”

by Samark Khurshid

City Council Developing New Protections for Workers in ‘Gig’ Economy Wed, 04 Nov 2015 23:08:43 +0000