Gotham Gazette Tue, 25 Sep 2018 05:30:56 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) City Council Considers Regulation of Grocery Personnel Decisions daneek miller presser

Council Member Miller (photo by John McCarten)

The City Council Committee on Civil Service and Labor saw heated debate at a Friday hearing on a proposed law to protect grocery and retail store workers from job volatility. The bill, known as the Grocery Worker Retention Act, aims to regulate personnel decision-making during store ownership transitions.

Introduced by Council Member I. Daneek Miller, chair of the labor committee, the act (Intro. 632) would require grocery stores that undergo a change in ownership to retain employees for a 90-day period and to review their performance on an individual basis thereafter, keeping employed those who've performed satisfactorily. In case of employee cutbacks, those with seniority or experience would be required to be retained. The act also affords these employees legal recourse in case any conditions are violated.

Although the bill drafting process began over a year ago, said Council Member Miller, a former labor leader himself, now may be the time to maximize the benefits envisioned. In July, supermarket giant A&P declared bankruptcy and will be selling dozens of its stores, which would stand to have an effect across the five boroughs. Many locations will be up for auction, with thousands of employees facing job insecurity.

The unions that altogether represent roughly 50,000 grocery workers in New York City -- around one-fourth of the city's retail workforce -- are heavily in favor of the bill.

The law is beneficial to workers, owners, and customers, said David Mertz, New York City Director for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. "A worker retention policy such as in this legislation protects working families, provides a stable and experiences workforce for owners and thus maintains a safe and reliable service to customers," he said at Friday's hearing.

Others who testified in the law's favor included union representatives, non-profit health and safety groups, and individual grocery store employees.

Representatives of the retail and grocery industry are displeased with the bill, viewing it as an overreach by the Council. Employers see the liberal legislative body as trying to impose excessive regulation of employment decisions by private entities.

Jay Peltz, general counsel and vice president of government relations for the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, questioned the legal authority of the City in passing the bill in so far as it aims to maintain health and safety standards at stores. Peltz was insistent Friday that the bill would do more harm than good, disincentivizing investors from purchasing supermarkets, which means "the neighborhood around [a store] would be deprived of a better store with wider assortments, healthier choices, and more jobs. This would hurt the health and well-being of an area, not help it."

The hearing saw a thorough back-and-forth between industry representatives and Council Members Ben Kallos and Daniel Dromm, who refused to accept the opposing arguments being made. Dromm personally recounted the predatory practices of a supermarket owner in his district and repeatedly refuted and dismissed counter-arguments.

The bill is not the first of its kind. Local Law 39 from 2002 gave protections to building service workers in much the same vein as this law would do for grocery store employees. A more parallel example is a law passed statewide in California earlier this year that even withstood a challenge at the State Supreme Court.

The Council labor committee also quickly discussed and unanimously approved Intro. 903 which would provide health insurance coverage to the family members of deceased employees of the Department of Sanitation. The law was requested by Mayor de Blasio in response to the on-duty death of a sergeant from the Department of Sanitation in July this year.

The Grocery Worker Retention Act currently has 20 sponsors in the 51-member Council. After Friday's hearing it could be tweaked, or not, before being voted on in a subsequent committee hearing before heading to the full Council for approval - if it has enough support.

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

City Council Considers Regulation of Grocery Personnel Decisions Fri, 25 Sep 2015 18:27:21 +0000
Public Advocate Files Brief to Expedite Garner Case Appeal tish james city hall

Public Advocate James at a rally at City Hall (photo: @JaviLacayo)

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James will file a brief today with the New York State Supreme Court seeking expedited appeal hearings against the denied petitions to release grand jury transcripts and evidence in the Eric Garner case.

After a Staten Island grand jury decided in December not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the July chokehold death of Eric Garner, a request for disclosure of the transcripts and evidence presented to the grand jury was brought before the court by Public Advocate James, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and The New York Post.

But on March 19, State Supreme Court Judge William Garnett refused to unseal the evidence saying in his opinion that the petitioners had failed to show a "compelling or particularized need" for the evidence. James had then vowed to appeal the decision.

Today, James will file a motion to expedite the appeal, which itself will be filed sometime this week. "Without [the motion to expedite] it'll likely take a year for it to be heard," she said in a phone interview this morning. "A decision in about a year is unacceptable."

The motion's justification is simple. A speedy appeal is necessary since the case implicates a "pressing and time-sensitive matter of deep public concern," the motion states. It also says the appeal will have direct bearing on legislation and policy reform that is currently being considered.

"There's a crisis of confidence in our criminal justice system," said James. "But we're undaunted in our quest for justice. The secrecy of the grand jury process is not sacrosanct. This is bigger than the Garner case, bigger than one borough, bigger than one individual. it's about restoring confidence in our criminal justice system."

Grand jury evidence is protected by state law, and New York has strict laws about concealing most information from grand jury proceedings. After the Eric Garner case decision, there was widespread outrage against what people saw as a failure of a broken system, sparking weeks of protests in the streets. The release of evidence would bring more transparency to the system, James said. "The public has a right to know."

Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, who presided over the Pantaleo grand jury and is now running for Congress, urged the court to deny the petition for disclosure and later called Judge Garnett's decision "well-reasoned."

But James argues that Donovan set the precedent for their appeal. He had originally filed a motion for limited disclosure of the evidence and it was granted. "We're arguing the same law," James said.

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

Public Advocate Files Brief to Expedite Garner Case Appeal Tue, 14 Apr 2015 14:34:57 +0000