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Pay Equity Begins with Paying Black Girls


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(photo: @GGENYC)


Today, on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, we recognize the fact that black women would have to work up to today - August 7 - to earn what the average white man earned in 2017.

The reality is that the wage gap that black women in New York City experience is even more stark - a report released this week by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer noted that black women’s earnings are so low compared to white men that New York City’s Black Women’s Equal Pay Day would fall not in August, but in October.

This of course does not take into account the realities facing the incredibly nuanced experiences of the community - black trans women who face significant barriers in the workforce at every turn, immigrant black women whose labor often is in the shadows of our economy, black women who care for our children and our elders, often at very low pay and in industries that are notorious for labor violations, to name a few.

Today, we consider the existing policies, practices, and systems which prevent black women from receiving their proper remuneration. Families and communities are affected when black women are denied the appropriate pay for their work. So many households in New York City are led by black women, meaning when black women aren’t paid equitably, their children, neighbors, and communities suffer.

In recent years, thanks to the work of our partners at PowHer New York, we have made strides. Section 194 of our state labor law prohibits employers from paying employees of a different gender less for equal work that requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility. In New York City, employers are now banned from inquiring about salary history in the employment application process. Most recently, the City Council introduced legislation to examine the racial gender wage gap in our municipal workforce - women account for 59% of the city’s workforce and two-thirds of those women are women of color.

At Girls for Gender Equity, we know that the wage gap begins early. As a youth-serving organization that invests in the leadership of young cis and trans girls of color and gender non-conforming (GNC) youth, we know that young people of color - especially trans and GNC youth - are locked out of opportunity early on. We ensure that young people whose expertise we value to move our campaigns and organizing strategies forward are compensated for their time.

The concentration of black women in low-wage industries, unchecked workplace violations by bad actors, and employers who continue to undervalue black women’s work all contribute to the racial gender wage gap. If we consider education as a tool to help black and Latinx communities achieve pay equity, our schools can open - and close the doors of economic opportunity.

Black girls and TGNC youth are prevented from having their choice in occupations because of schools that push them out. When a black girl is told she has “too much attitude” or when she starts skipping school to avoid the humiliation of being asked to strip down everyday before going through a metal detector, she doesn’t get to pursue a career that could provide her with a comfortable living wage. Stuyvesant High School, one of the most prestigious New York City high schools, recently offered 13 slots to black students in its freshman class of 1,000. How can we expect black women and girls to be paid equitably when pathways are not created early on for them to thrive?

We say all this also recognizing that even when black women move into managerial positions in the financial sector, they are still paid less than white women and men. The wage gap in New York City is indeed a racial gender wage gap.

Today and everyday we lift up black women and their labor. It is a matter of economic and racial justice.

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Ashley Sawyer, esq., is director of policy & government relations for Girls for Gender Equity. On Twitter @ACSawyerJustice & @GGENYC.

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Fostering Feeder Schools Will Improve Diversity at the Specialized High Schools


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students (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


The public education system in New York City remains one of the most segregated and unequally resourced school systems in the country, reflective of segregation and inequality in other areas of our civic life.

That segregation is starkly obvious in our specialized high schools. In a city where two out of three public high school students are black or Latino, it is unacceptable that they comprise only 10% of the student body across all eight of our elite high schools.

Much has been made recently of Mayor de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, or SHSAT, from the admissions process. The plan is to replace it with a more holistic assessment of achievement based on students’ classroom grades, scores on state standardized English and math tests, and potentially other criteria yet to be determined. But the lack of diversity in our specialized high schools is not a function of the admissions process alone.

The city’s specialized high schools draw from just 21 of the nearly 600 public middle schools citywide. The two Brooklyn City Council districts that we represent factor into this discussion in important ways, and help us draw a path toward improvements to our school system and more diversity at our elite high schools.

Three of these 21 feeder schools are located in the city’s 43rd City Council District in south Brooklyn, with nearly a quarter of all students admitted to specialized high schools coming from School Districts 20, 21, and 22. The schools in these communities are exceptionally diverse, with a majority of students coming from first and second generation immigrant families -- white, black, Hispanic, and Asian alike.

District 16 in central Brooklyn, where schools are 77 percent black and 18.5 percent Hispanic, is a different story. There is not one feeder middle school in District 16, which decades ago had enhanced academics that sent hundreds of students of color to the specialized schools. In fact, until 2015, District 16 schools did not offer the advanced level courses and programming known as “gifted and talented.”

It took pressure from local elected officials forced the Department of Education to provide many majority-minority school districts access to the kind of enhanced academics that provide a pathway to the specialized schools. Despite representing over two-thirds of our public school population, black and Latino students make up only 27% of those enrolled in gifted and talented programs. But even now, the enhanced academics are poorly resourced.

To be sure, improving the admissions process to ensure greater diversity in our specialized high schools is critically important. Expanding access to a great education for minority communities already facing obstacles to their achievement is necessary if we are going to provide equality of opportunity for all New Yorkers.

High-stakes, standardized tests like the SHSAT are poor indicators of students’ potential for success. However, the test is not in itself the problem, and need not be eliminated in order to increase opportunity and diversity. But even with additional methods of assessment, the reality of unequal resources and underinvestment in certain schools would mean improving diversity at our elite high schools will still be a significant challenge.

When you consider that nearly 60% of the middle schools that sent students to specialized high schools were in districts that had gifted and talented schools that required a test for admission, it is evident how decades of unequal investment in enrichment for students of color might be the most significant contributing factor to the city’s problem of diversity in specialized high schools.

Barring state intervention, the students who receive a qualifying score on the SHSAT will continue to be those who have access to test prep and other educational enrichment that most black and Latino students do not.

Today, the National Society of Black Engineers offers test prep to youngsters in District 16 schools to prepare them for tests like the SHSAT. This programming should be expanded, not just to succeed on a test, but to teach how to succeed in life. We must give students enriching experiences that make them connect with learning and foster critical thought and engagement. And we have to do more to create parent awareness and interest in gifted and talented programming.

But it is not enough simply to offer gifted and talented programs and call it a day. The programming provided must be adequately resourced and targeted at the students who are currently underrepresented.

Our colleagues in the City Council agree that the city must restore the funding for enhanced academics in black and Latino communities. As recently as 1989, Brooklyn Tech, for example, was 51 percent black and Latino. As enhanced academics for high-potential students was eliminated in those communities, the percentages of students of color decreased to the point we are at today. We know students, whether in southern or central Brooklyn, can compete successfully if given the resources. They have done it before. They can do it again.

Ending the SHSAT without providing adequate funding and a commitment to educating all students equitably will do nothing to adequately resolve the lack of diversity in our schools, specialized or otherwise.

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Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. represents the Brooklyn communities of Bedford Stuyvesant and Northern Crown Heights in the New York City Council. Justin Brannan represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst in the City Council. On Twitter @RobertCornegyJr & @JustinBrannan.

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Note: this column has been corrected to reflect that in 1989, Brooklyn Tech was 51 percent black and Latino, not 67 percent as originally stated.

28 Years Later, ADA Non-Compliance Leaves Deaf Patients At Risk


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(photo via UCONN)


Imagine being in so much pain that you call 911. Imagine being transported a great distance by an ambulance, all the while in excruciating pain and scared about what might be going on inside your body. Imagine that when you arrive in the hospital, multiple people poke and prod you without telling you what they are doing and without your being able to tell them what you need.

All too frequently, this is the experience of people who are deaf within the United States medical system, because of a complete disregard for the regulations and guidelines set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which mandate sign language interpreter services.

When former President George H. W. Bush signed the ADA 28 years ago last week, he said, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” The ADA requires systemic change in how America accommodates people with disabilities, yet more than a quarter of a century after the law’s enactment, pervasive “walls of exclusion” still exist.

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) recently settled a complaint on behalf of a deaf person in New York City who was denied access to interpreter services at a hospital. It took over six years to resolve the matter, and the client continued to encounter countless similar experiences virtually every time she attempted to schedule an appointment with and visit a medical professional.

This individual is not alone – primary care doctors, specialists, dentists, mental health providers, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and labs routinely deny interpreter services to people who are deaf. This systemic discrimination in the health care setting is illegal under the ADA and has been illegal for even longer in places like New York City, where there are strong state and city non-discrimination laws at play.

The lack of effective communication access is not unique to New York City. The Syracuse University College of Law Disability Rights Clinic also regularly litigates cases of healthcare providers refusing to offer sign language interpreters in upstate New York.

Although there are resources available in New York to hold medical professionals and other agencies accountable if they do not provide effective communication, these problems remain. The New York City Commission on Human Rights and the New York State Division of Human Rights have the ability to investigate and redress such discrimination, even where the individual wants to proceed anonymously. However, these mechanisms are not enough to prevent countless instances of discrimination against members of the deaf community who seek health care.

So if it is illegal, and there are mechanisms for redress, why does the problem persist?

It’s all about money and attitude. There’s a pervasive disregard in the health care profession for the importance of effective communication access for both provider and patient. As an anti-discrimination law, the ADA was intended to enact societal change. However, laws are often not enough – we need a shift in culture.

When deaf individuals speak out about not receiving interpreter services at medical offices, they are often told it is too expensive and providers are reluctant to pay for communication access. The problem is even more acute for solo practitioners than it is for large hospitals and medical practices with deep pockets. The medical community’s failure to budget and plan for this easily anticipated and legally required expense is unacceptable.

Those who speak out are also told they do not really need an interpreter as they can communicate through other means. This is unacceptable.

To require a person who is deaf and deprived effective communication access to seek change, continue to advocate until the change is made, file a lawsuit if the change is not made, and continue to prosecute the lawsuit until it is resolved, is not a realistic solution for creating a more accessible world. It unfairly places the onus on the deaf individual.

There are already models for how to pay for these services. A few years ago, the Monroe County Bar Association established a fund to help defray up to 50 percent of a member’s interpreter bill. Likewise, Title IV of the ADA, which mandates the establishment of a national telephone relay system enabling deaf people to communicate, is funded through a tiny fee collected from everyone’s telephone bill. For health care providers not affiliated with a large institution, a similar fund should be created.

Access delayed is access denied for members of the deaf community when they seek health care. We need creative funding, changes in attitude, and adherence to the law immediately to address this abhorrent situation.

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Michael Schwartz, Associate Professor of Law at the Syracuse University College of Law, Director of its Disability Rights Clinic, board member at Tangata Group, and a long-time deaf rights advocate; and Maureen Belluscio, Senior Staff Attorney, Disability Justice Program of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. On Twitter @NYLPI.

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Key Takeaways from Ocasio-Cortez's Victory


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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigning (photo: @Ocasio2018)


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory seems to be misunderstood in a number of ways. First, it is hard to say that it was representative of Democratic Party supporters in the district. Suppose we measure the Democratic Party voters by Crowley’s vote total in the 2016 Congressional election, when he faced no primary opponent and a nominal general election foe (Crowley won 83 percent). The 2018 Democratic primary total -- 28,000 votes -- was only 19.0 percent of this amount.

Indeed, Ocasio-Cortez’s victory reflected the typical outcome of a restrictive voting system favored by the Democratic Party establishment because of its ability to turn out its patronage base. The decline of the patronage base has reduced the turnout of establishment-oriented Democrats while Bernie Sanders has shown the way for a progressive challenger to harness the internet and social media to turn out a base of followers. Thus, Ocasio-Cortez was able to turn the tables on the Democratic Party organization in a low turnout election.

Second, her margin over Crowley was 3,584 in the Queens precincts but only 542 in Bronx precincts. This suggests that her appeal was not primarily to the Latino working-class community but instead the Queens professional class. This thesis is further strengthened by looking at the voter turnout in each borough. In 2016, 66.0% of Crowley’s votes were from Queens whereas in the 2018 primary, 72.4% of the votes were from Queens. Again this is consistent with the Sanders movement.

Despite his principled commitment to working-class politics, Sanders’ message overwhelming resonated with the professional class and little with communities of color. Having a Latina candidate, however, was ideal given the district’s ethnic composition and the desire of Sanders’ supporters to demonstrate their commitment to both far-left politics and multiculturalism.

What happened in the 14th Congressional district certainly reflects the decline of the ability of centrist Democrats to appeal to the anti-Trump movement.
There is also a deeper dynamic at work. In the 1950s, fully one-third of all non-supervisory private-sector personnel were members of unions, giving the Democratic Party a pragmatic working-class base that led to centrist policies.

Similarly, the working class support enabled left-of-center parties in Western Europe and Israel to contest for power with pragmatic centrist policies. In and around 2000, Clinton (U.S.), Blair (U.K.), Schroeder (Germany), Jospin (France), and Barak (Israel) represented victories for this agenda. However, as traditional working-class jobs have declined, as union membership in the private sector has plummeted, this base has shrunk and so too has the support for centrist policies. In the U.K., this has caused a shift in the Labor Party to a much more leftist orientation and this is the direction the Democratic Party has moved in the U.S.; no longer centered around private sector workers but increasingly a party of the professional class and less affluent people of color.

Ocasio-Cortez’s victory crystallizes another important cleavage: the schism between an increasingly active anti-Israel stance among leftist Democrats and the pro-Israel stance of more centrist Democrats. The animus to Israel shown by Democratic Party leader Keith Ellison and candidate Bernie Sanders is amplified by her victory.

She is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, which has as one of its platforms, support for the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement. Not only has Ocasio-Cortez not rejected this part of the platform, she has enunciated extreme anti-Israel positions and not shown support for a two-state solution.

How will centrist pro-Israel Democrats deal with this increasingly aggressive anti-Israel stance? Senator Gillibrand, in her courting of the left flank, has embraced Ocasio-Cortez as she did Women’s March leaders who embrace the anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan. However, given his unequivocal support for Israel and rejection of BDS, what will Senator Schumer do? If centrists don’t stand firm on the issue of Israel, it further exposes the demise of the traditional Democratic Party.

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Robert Cherry is Stern Professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center.

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Note: this article has been corrected with the intended French leader, Jospin.

Deadline Approaching to Protect Title X and Our Right to Critical Health Care


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(photo: @PPact)


If it were not for Planned Parenthood, I’m not sure where I would have gotten critical health care services that I needed. And now, the Trump-Pence administration is trying to take that access away.

The Trump-Pence Administration recently announced a proposed new rule on the Title X federal family planning program designed to make it impossible for patients like me to get birth control or preventive care from reproductive health care providers like Planned Parenthood.

With the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, the future of reproductive health policy in the United States is further in jeopardy. Title X is the nation’s family planning program that helps ensure that everyone can access birth control, STD testing, and treatment and other preventive care, regardless of income. Four million people, including 150,000 in New York City, benefit from Title X funding every year.

Under Trump’s proposed “domestic gag rule,” any health care provider who provides abortion, refers patients for abortion, or even mentions the word “abortion” would no longer be able to receive Title X funding.

In 2008, my mom was diagnosed with late-stage fallopian tube cancer, a rare gynecological cancer sometimes found in Ashkenazi Jewish women. My family was heartbroken. We not only had to worry about getting my mom better, but also finding out if this would be a disease that affected me as well. I was attending Hunter College and spent half my week going to school and the other half taking care of my mom as she underwent chemotherapy. In those chemo rooms, I learned how many women were ignored by their doctors when they shared their symptoms and how many didn't know they were genetically predisposed to this illness before it was too late.

Ovarian cancer is known as “the silent killer” and I wanted to do whatever I could to avoid being another woman who lost her life to this horrible illness. My mom's doctor informed me going on birth control pills was the only preventative measure. There was one hiccup though -- I didn't have health insurance. This was before the Affordable Care Act passed and I couldn't afford the monthly cost of the birth control. CVS charged $160 for the brand of birth control pills I needed. As a college student, it was unfathomable.

A friend told me about Planned Parenthood of New York City (PPNYC). So I went to the location downtown, nervous I couldn't afford my bill, but determined to take control of my health. I had a checkup and found out I could get the exact brand of birth control pills I needed for $20 per month. When I went to pay for my visit, I found out it was free thanks to their sliding scale that factors in a person's income. At a time when I was terrified and confused, PPNYC showed me compassion and gave me the tools I needed to be confident in my own health, while taking care of my mom and being a college student.

My mom is now eight years in remission and I graduated from college a triple major. As a writer and performer in New York City, I still use Planned Parenthood of New York City today for my health care. I'm so grateful to be able to continue to have this resource in my life and I lend my voice whenever possible so it can continue to have its doors open for all people, regardless of gender, immigration status, or ability to pay.

The Title X program helped me access affordable birth control from PPNYC, and we need to fight to make sure this program continues to help people like me. In New York, Planned Parenthood serves 52% of patients who get care through Title X. It includes critical preventive services like birth control, cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment, and well-woman exams. It has bipartisan support and is part of the reason we’re at a 30-year low for unintended pregnancy in the United States.

The Trump-Pence Administration doesn’t care how many people they hurt. A domestic gag rule on Title X providers would have devastating consequences and threaten health care for millions. All people deserve access to high-quality health care and critical, medically accurate information about their bodies.

Planned Parenthood of New York City was there for me when no one else was, and helped me take control of my future. I proudly stand with them as they fight against these regressive policies that take away our right to make the health decisions best for us. You can join us in the fight for our reproductive health care by posting a public comment to the Department of Health and Human Services site by July 31 demonstrating your opposition to the domestic gag rule and why each and every one of us deserves reproductive freedom.

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RoseAnn Fino lives in Astoria and is a patient at Planned Parenthood of New York City.

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Lives at Stake: Senate Must Reconvene Immediately to Pass Speed Safety Camera Bill


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(photo: @NYC_SafeStreets)


No parent expects that a kiss goodbye on a seemingly normal day will end as it did. A phone call from the police. A frantic trip from a parent-teacher conference to the emergency room. Hours waiting with friends, Sammy’s pediatrician, and family. Praying for him to live but prayers turning out to not be enough.

We should never have met. A social worker, parent, and concerned-but-not-an-activist Brooklynite and a committed elected official from Manhattan. But this unimaginable event brought us together in pursuit of a common goal.

The rage and heart-wrenching pain needed an outlet. So we met, and met again -- at rallies, press conferences and meetings. Now together, we fight for a common goal: to protect New York City schoolchildren and to change the culture of reckless driving that is killing someone like Sammy on our streets every 38 hours.

We have a preventable public health crisis. It was a silent epidemic before we met. But now this crisis is gaining widespread recognition, as is a proven life-saving remedy: speed safety cameras.

New York City’s permission to operate 140 speed safety cameras in school zones is expiring. All of the cameras are about to be turned off. All because of inaction by the New York State Senate. But, the Senate can remedy this by reconvening in Albany and passing the life-saving bill that awaits its members.

After a four-year pilot, the data is conclusive: speed safety cameras work. They have reduced speeding, a leading cause of death and injury on New York City streets, by more than 63 percent, according to the New York City Department of Transportation. And at a time when traffic deaths have been on the rise across the United States as a whole -- traffic deaths climbed 14 percent nationally between 2015 and 2016 -- here in New York City, we have watched traffic deaths fall by 28 percent since speed safety cameras were switched on in 2014.

Simply put, if we can conquer the speeding epidemic, we can achieve Vision Zero and prevent people from dying. We’re making progress. Together, we helped pass the state Assembly bill (A.7798C) to expand the speed safety camera program to 290 school zones and allow the cameras to be placed on the most dangerous streets near schools, not just directly in front of school entrances. This bill has the support of over 300 organizations across the city and 77 percent of New York City voters, and has 34 co-sponsors -- including three Republicans -- in the Republican-led Senate.

The Senate needs to reconvene and pass this bill immediately. For Sammy. For all New York City schoolchildren, and for all New Yorkers.

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Amy Cohen is a founding member of Families for Safe Streets. Deborah J. Glick is a New York State Assembly member representing the 66th District in Lower Manhattan and is the prime sponsor of the speed camera school safety bill. On Twitter @NYC_SafeStreets & @DeborahJGlick.

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Why Chuck Schumer Should Fear the Election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez


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Senator Schumer on a tele-town hall (photo: @SenSchumer)


Pay heed Chuck Schumer. The base is coming for you.

And for good reason. The Democratic establishment is historically unpopular. And there is no exception even in deep blue New York.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s resounding defeat of Rep. Joe Crowley, the so-called King of the Queens machine, makes clear that establishment Democrats need to wake up. The election of an overnight socialist sensation was a clear demonstration that the groundswell of grassroots progressive activism in New York has moved from street protests to the voting booth.

Ever since Democrats lost to the least qualified presidential candidate in the history of the republic in 2016, there has been a growing repulsion with the status quo on the left across the country generally and in New York City specifically.

Soon after Donald Trump took office, progressive activists took to protesting Senator Schumer outside his Park Slope home. Disgusted by his admitted willingness to work with the demagogue-in-chief, progressive activist groups like Indivisible Nation BK, of which I am a board member, braved the cold winter months to deliver a message: Donald Trump is a racist, xenophobic, treasonous existential threat to the nation and the world. And we want our senators, particularly the Senate minority leader, to say that loud and clear.

Senator Schumer would be wise not to take the base for granted. Just this month, members of Indivisible Nation BK gathered to hear him address his first town hall since Trump’s election. The event was the culmination of over a year of protests, pushing, and prodding by our group and others. However, the senator abruptly altered the event a mere 90 minutes before it was supposed to start. Apparently dealing with plane trouble, Senator Schumer told us he was stuck at an airport in Utica and would conduct a tele-town hall instead.

We were not impressed. As we anxiously waited for the opportunity to ask him how he would save our country, we listened in disbelief as the senator launched into a monologue about how he played basketball in high school and then got into Harvard.

We do not need a regurgitation of the senator’s well-known biography. What we need is leadership. As one tele-town hall participant put it, it’s like we are playing a basketball game, and while Democrats are practicing their bounce passes, Republicans are cutting players’ throats on the court.

Meanwhile, Trump is about to shape the Supreme Court for a generation. Incredibly, if you listened only to Sen. Schumer talk about the matter, you would never know that Trump is poised to do so while under federal investigation for obstruction of justice after his campaign blatantly and wantonly courted a hostile foreign adversary to swing his election. Just last week, Trump stood, quite literally, shoulder-to-shoulder with Vladimir Putin in rejecting his own intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign. Why is Chuck Schumer not taking every opportunity to call Trump an illegitimate traitor when talking about the Supreme Court fight? What weakness.

If Senator Schumer cannot whip his entire caucus to vote against any nominee not named Merrick Garland, then he should step aside as minority leader. Such a failure would further demonstrate what is becoming readily apparent: that Senator Schumer is not the leader for this dire hour. What we need is a progressive firebrand to lead the charge and throw as many wrenches into the machinery of corruption as possible.

We cannot compromise with the Republican Party. That is because there no longer is a Republican Party. It has been replaced by a reactionary white nationalist party masquerading as the Republican Party, beholden to only Trump. And there can be no compromise with what is dead and rotting. We expect our leaders to adopt a war footing, because, have no doubt, we are at war for the soul of our nation.

A war footing also means supporting bold and clear progressive policies such as Medicare-for-all, federal jobs and affordable housing guarantees, paid parental leave, and tuition-free public universities. When so-called “pragmatic” Democrats inevitably and facetiously ask us how we plan to pay for it, let us be equally resolute in our reply: by taxing corporations, millionaires, and billionaires. No more 12-point plans and carefully crafted, round table-produced cookie cutter messaging.

These progressive policies are overwhelmingly popular both nationally and in New York. This is why, for example, bold progressive policies have been the cornerstones of Cynthia Nixon’s campaign for governor against the comically establishment Andrew Cuomo. And it is also why Cuomo has been moving to the left as quickly as possible ever since Nixon announced her running.

Half-measures are no longer sufficient. New York’s Democratic voters expect our Democratic officials to bleed blue like us. They must be both moral authorities and fearless leaders.

So pay attention and take action, Senator Schumer. We are.

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Steve Wagner is a Brooklyn-based activist and personal injury trial lawyer. He is an executive board member of Indivisible Nation BK. He blogs at brooklynresists.nyc. On Twitter @stevedwagner.

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We Need Commercial Waste Reform, and Now We Have a Plan


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Council Member Cornegy, the author (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


New Yorkers have good reason to be concerned, even angry, about the state of affairs in our city's commercial waste industry. Stakeholders and commentators are absolutely right to note that, among other issues to address, the tragic loss of life in this industry is unacceptable.

However, agreement on the importance of cleaning up commercial waste carting does not change the fact that a huge question is still on the table: How can we actually achieve our shared goals as quickly and effectively as possible?

In many ways, the answer lies in comments made just this week by Mayor de Blasio, when he said, "I hope that we can really strengthen the hand of the Business Integrity Commission, give them a lot more tools, a lot more teeth to work with in their regulation of that industry."

My colleagues in the City Council and I have introduced legislation, known as Intro. 996, which would do that by empowering the Business Integrity Commission (BIC) to raise standards in the commercial waste industry and hold bad actors accountable.

Our bill would enable BIC to create standardized safety certifications for industry employees and institute requirements that ensure workers are properly trained. It would also give BIC the tools to establish clear rules regarding allowable levels of emissions for commercial waste trucks. Additionally, the bill would empower BIC to more stringently regulate the industry with regard to maximizing efficiency along each waste collection route.

These are just several examples of how Intro. 996 would give BIC more of the tools and teeth that Mayor de Blasio has said are necessary for advancing commercial waste carting reforms. Our legislation would also let BIC establish its own task force to offer additional insight and recommendations for continuing to improve this industry over the long-term.

On the other hand, Mayor de Blasio's own Department of Sanitation has offered a nebulous and flawed proposal to develop commercial waste zones, which would replace the industry's current open market system with a series of geographic zones that are exclusively contracted to a small number of waste carters.

First, Sanitation’s proposal is not squarely focused on advancing the mayor's stated goal of empowering BIC. By relying on a fundamental restructuring of the industry, this plan would essentially take power away from BIC rather than giving it more of the tools it needs to regulate carting companies.

There is also the issue of unintended consequences. It is common knowledge by now that the zone-based waste collection plan implemented last year in Los Angeles had a truly disastrous rollout. Prices and service complaints skyrocketed, leading to a chaotic situation that, if it were to happen in New York, would surely make it extremely difficult to achieve our shared goals.

The Department of Sanitation’s own 2016 report, released as part of introducing its waste zone proposal, acknowledged that costs for small businesses that are served by this industry would increase under a zone-based plan. Additionally, the report acknowledged that zones would lead to job losses in the industry - and I do not think that efforts to increase safety have to include putting people out of work.

To be clear, I am ready to advance commercial waste carting reforms now and deliver results on increasing safety, reducing environmental impact and increasing regulatory oversight. And I want to achieve this in the way that Mayor de Blasio himself has articulated - by giving BIC more of the tools and teeth it needs.

Now is the time to translate our concerns about this industry into tangible, sensible, and effective action - we just need to get it done.

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Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. represents the central Brooklyn communities of Bedford Stuyvesant and northern Crown Heights in the New York City Council. On Twitter @RobertCornegyJr.

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I’m with Cynthia Because She Stands for Schools, Not Jails


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Antonio Reynoso, the author, endorses Cynthia Nixon (photo: @CMReynoso34)


Last week, I endorsed Cynthia Nixon for Governor because her campaign is focused on making sure young people of color across New York thrive in school, rather than wither away in jail. As a City Council member from a predominantly black and brown community in Brooklyn, I constantly hear from young people who know what they need to succeed in school and what stands in their way.

Right now, there are more police in New York City schools than there are guidance counselors and social workers combined. What message does that send our children?

It is time to drastically change course in how we invest in the lives of black and brown young people. Talking to friends and allies across the state, the stories and experiences of the young people in my district are strikingly similar to those of young people across New York, from the Hudson Valley to Syracuse and beyond—because, while we can draw geographical lines to separate their school districts, it’s the color line that ensures they will all still be impacted by racially discriminatory school discipline policies and practices.

These policies have created a school-to-prison pipeline that afflicts young people of color across the State of New York. As Governor, Cynthia Nixon is committed to transformative policy changes to dismantle this system. That’s why a central part of her #SchoolsNotJails platform is school climate reform. Cynthia’s plan will push New York to lead the way by creating a Restorative Practices Training department within the State Department of Education to support schools in implementing restorative practices, introduce legislation to end school-based arrests for misdemeanors and violations, support schools to remove ineffective security measures, such as law enforcement and metal detectors, and only use suspensions as a last resort.

In New York State, there are over 500 suspensions per day and a disproportionate number of our young people being suspended are students of color. Statewide, one in five black boys are suspended from school each year; for black girls, it is one in seven. In New York City, black students are 27% of the population but nearly half of all students suspended; in Kingston they are 14% of the student body but 36% of all suspensions; and in Troy, they are 31% of the population but 61% of all students who are expelled.

The racial disparities in the statistics on referrals to law enforcement are just as alarming. In New York City, black and Latino students are 92% of all students who receive a summons; in Schenectady, black and Latino students are 75% of all students referred to law enforcement; and in Buffalo, black and Latino students are 85% of all students referred to law enforcement.

These disparities begin in pre-kindergarten, where black students are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended from school. And they continue through high school and beyond—one suspension in high school doubles the likelihood that a student will drop out before graduation and it denies students from critical instructional time. Last year, students in New York lost 686,000 days of instruction because of suspension. If the school discipline gap continues, it’s no wonder that our state is struggling to close the graduation gap.

Those numbers alone should be enough evidence to convince Governor Cuomo to take steps to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. But instead of confronting this reality, under his leadership, New York has done nothing to curtail the school-to-prison pipeline.

The young people I meet with are clear that the way forward is not to continue to “harden” their schools and rely on ineffective and harsh school discipline and policing, but to ensure equity in school discipline policies and practices and reimagine our approach to safety. There is no evidence that police officers and metal detectors make schools any safer, but there is ample research that shows they makes students feel less safe and result in more young people being pushed in front of police officers, prosecutors, and judges instead of guidance counselors, social workers, and school administrators.

Students feel safest in their schools not when they know technology exists that track their every move, or police officers do random checks and sweeps, but when they have staff trained in trauma-informed care, restorative practices, and youth development that are there to attend to their needs and create an inclusive environment.

Young people in my district are leading the way in demonstrating what safe and supportive schools can look like. Many of these schools are implementing restorative practices with real results -- dramatically decreasing suspensions and building strong school communities. This year my district saw one of the largest decreases in suspensions across the city. We can replicate this and transform schools into the safe and supportive learning environments our students and families deserve.

New York needs a public school system that is completely disentangled from the criminal justice system and a commitment that we are creating a nurturing and supportive environment for all students. This is the commitment that Cynthia Nixon is making. We need to invest in schools, not repeat the same policy failures that have led to our children ending up in jails.

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Antonio Reynoso is the City Council member for New York’s 34th Council District in Brooklyn. On Twitter: @CMReynoso34.

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Fixing the City's Broken Approach to Nonprofit Contracting


scott stringer

Comptroller Scott Stringer, a co-author (photo: @NYCComptroller)


From housing for homeless families to meals for our seniors, non-profit organizations are on the front lines of our city, supporting our most vulnerable neighbors. Yet these groups are surviving hand-to-mouth when it comes to funding and often it’s our own city government that’s stalling the contracting process and delaying payments that thousands of nonprofits rely on.

In a new report, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office looked at thousands of human service contracts, and found an astounding 90 percent were submitted to the Comptroller’s Office for registration by a City agency after the contract start date had already passed, with half of them arriving six or more months late. Some agencies, including the Department of Homeless Services and the Department of Education, submitted over 99% of their contracts late.

The consequences of the City’s chronic lateness are huge. Because vendors don’t get paid until their contracts are registered, widespread delays in the contracting process force cash-strapped nonprofits to take out loans, miss payroll, or potentially cut services, just to deal with the shortfall in cash. In the last fiscal year alone, nonprofits took 751 City-issued bridge loans worth $149.9 million in total to keep the wheels turning as the City slowly processed their contracts.

It’s unacceptable. The burden of the City’s sluggish procurement process shouldn’t fall on our non-profit partners. That’s why we’re calling for common-sense reforms to break through the bureaucracy.

The City should build a public tracking system for contracts. If you can track a package as it moves across continents, you should be able to track contracts as they move through City agencies. Moreover, the City must develop clear metrics and strict timeframes throughout the procurement process, which will bring a basic level of transparency and accountability into this system.

Consider this: a non-profit is awarded a City contract to provide job training, with a specific start date for summer programming. That contract then goes through multiple layers of bureaucracy at the contracting agency before going over to some, if not all, of the following oversight agencies for review: the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, the Law Department, the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Investigation, and the Division of Labor Services at the Department of Small Business Services.

These levels of review are crucial and help to safeguard the integrity of the City’s public procurement process, rooting out waste and fraud. But as these agencies are not held accountable to deadlines, the full process can take months or even years to complete before the contract arrives at the Comptroller’s Office for registration.

In the end, the non-profit is left waiting for its contract and subsequent payment, without information on the process. This forces hundreds of non-profits into an impossible catch-22: wait to begin work, which can stall vital services and drive up costs – and in reality is rarely possible – or begin work without a registered contract, which can jeopardize the organization’s finances.

But with strict time-frames and a tracking system, non-profits might be spared this turmoil and gain some control in a process that currently treats their ability to function and help thousands of New Yorkers as an afterthought.

What we’re putting forward is a blueprint for the City to do better. Making these fixes will bring the contracting process in line with the City’s priorities, because behind these contracts are people who need food to eat, a roof to sleep under, or someone to care for them. These people are our neighbors, our relatives, and our friends. And right now, the snail’s pace of City agencies is putting their care at risk.

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Scott Stringer is New York City Comptroller and Jose (Joey) Ortiz, Jr., is the Executive Director of the NYC Employment and Training Coalition. On Twitter @NYCComptroller and & @JoeyOrtizJr of @NYCETC_org

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CUNY’s Turn to Provide Paid Parental Leave for All


CUNY commencement

Macaulay Honors College commencement (photo via CUNY)


She hid her growing belly under loose dresses and oversized sweaters when she taught her classes of 30 college students. She avoided the departmental office during normal work hours, retrieving her mail early in the morning. If someone realized she was pregnant, she worried, some excuse would be found to deny her work for the next semester. With a baby on the way, losing her job would have put her and her spouse over the financial edge on which they delicately teetered.

Finally, after securing work, the adjunct faculty member relaxed and let her pregnancy show. Still, she worried about the due date. If there were complications, would she be able to return to work within a week as her employer required?

A story from a past generation? No. At CUNY, many adjunct faculty members – called “part-timers”– avoid telling their department chairs and colleagues about an impending pregnancy because their work is contingent from one semester to the next and they fear non-reappointment. Pregnancy discrimination is difficult to prove as adjuncts can be denied employment for any reason or no reason at all.

Even after that hurdle is successfully cleared, CUNY requires that a woman return to work a week after giving birth. Often, this is difficult for the mother and child. Sometimes, it is impossible. Then, she faces the peril of being unilaterally fired, losing her health benefits as well as her income just when she needs them most.
Sometimes co-workers willingly contribute unpaid labor to spell the new mother in the classroom and kindly administrators look the other way. But in many cases, it seems “easier” to find a new part-time faculty member to teach a class than to provide accommodations for the pregnant one. This discrimination arises from chronic understaffing, the well-worn trope of “interruption” to students’ education, and, especially, a pervasive attitude that, even though they teach more than half of all CUNY courses, adjuncts are seen as little more than the labor they provide.

CUNY still pointedly disavows any institutional responsibility to even long-time workers. Adjuncts don’t even have the right to “bank” unused sick days from one semester to the next, and the oddity of counting only their classroom hours as “work time” makes most ineligible for even the limited protections of the Family Medical Leave Act.

We are hopeful, though, that CUNY will soon see fit to enter the 21st century. Recently, two New York faculty unions, United Federation of Teachers and SUNY’s United University Professors, have won paid parental/caregiving leave for their members. And CUNY’s new interim chancellor, Vita Rabinowitz, is a renowned feminist scholar. While working at Hunter College, she was the founder of the Gender Equity Project, intended to clear away obstacles facing women faculty. At a recent Board of Trustees meeting, over a dozen adjuncts asked her to utilize a new state law as a vehicle for the kind of workplace justice she pioneered earlier in her career.

Under New York Paid Family Leave, workers pay a small supplement and receive partial pay and the right to return to their job for up to 12 weeks after childbirth, adoption, or to care for a sick family member. While private employers are required to implement the PFL, unfortunately, public employers, such as CUNY, can choose whether to opt in or not. So far, CUNY has failed to do so.

Currently, CUNY has over 15,000 “part-timers” who need relief from uncertainty. It’s time for their employer to provide this small modicum of security and stability. Then, paid family leave would make CUNY a place where pregnant women can proudly display their bellies for all the celebration that creating new life brings.

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Pamela Stemberg is an adjunct lecturer teaching at CCNY and Hostos College. Marc Kagan is a graduate assistant teaching at Lehman College.

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