Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


City Council Stated Meeting - September 28, 2005

Every two weeks the New York City Council meets for its Stated Meeting to introduce and pass legislation. Gotham Gazette covers these meetings and posts a summary of the bills passed.

"[U]ndocumented immigrants have been mistreated and abused. This bill will be able to prevent that. It provides dignity for everyone, regardless of their status." - Councilmember Helen Sears on legislation to create job centers for immigrant construction workers.

"This is giving the official sanction… to illegal aliens. We are a body that makes the law. We should not be sanctioning breaking the law." - Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr. in response.

Day laborers – immigrant construction workers who work for hourly wages wherever they can find a job - pose serious problems for the city and its residents.

The estimated 8,000 workers who struggle to find employment each day are often subjected to low pay, long hours, and hazardous working conditions.

Residents of the neighborhoods where day laborers congregate complain about men loitering on the corner, urinating in alleys, and harassing women.

In an effort to address concerns from both workers and neighborhood groups, non-profits in New York City have set up a handful of day laborer job centers. These facilities offer protections and better pay for workers and a specific location for construction crews to hire help.

The New York City Council wants to establish a commission to look into how more job centers could be developed across the city.

Councilmember Vincent Gentile from Bay Ridge, who helped draft the bill (Intro 592-A), said it was a "win-win."

"Laborers are protected," said Gentile. "And for the community, laborers are not congregating on street corners."

Councilmember Helen Sears from Jackson Heights, who also contributed to the bill, admitted that undocumented immigrants pose another difficult issue.

"While there are many day laborers who are undocumented, there are many who are not," said Sears. "And those undocumented immigrants have been mistreated and abused. This bill will be able to prevent that."

But Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr. from Astoria objected to language in the legislation that would grant 12 of the 20 seats on the commission to immigrant day laborers or representatives of groups working with laborers.

"This is giving the official sanction... to illegal aliens," said Vallone, Jr. "We are a body that makes the law. We should not be sanctioning breaking the law."

Republican Councilmember James Oddo from Staten Island said he also had serious concerns about the bill, but because it is such a serious problem, he said he was "willing to take a leap of faith to see what they come up with" and vote for it.

The measure passed by a vote of 42 to 2. Peter Vallone and Dennis Gallagher voted "no."

The City Council voted unanimously to approve a new parking holiday to mark the Hindu celebration of Diwali.

Despite opposition from the Bloomberg administration, the council voted 44-0 in favor of Intro 420-A, which would suspend alternate side of the street parking rules for the Indian holiday, also called the "Festival of Lights."

Supporters argue that it is an important gesture to the Indian and South Asian community.

"This is a community which is large in civic affairs," said Councilmember Gale Brewer from the Upper West Side. "Diwali is a joyful and important festival."

The city's sanitation and transportation departments oppose the measure, arguing it sets aside one more day when the city cannot clean the streets. There are already 33 other such holidays, including Christmas, Yom Kippur, and the Muslim holidays of Eid Ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adha.

City Council Speaker Gifford Miller said that many of the parking holidays overlap or fall on the weekends, and he argued that the sanitation department has plenty of time to do its job.

"This mayor seems to want to find any conceivable opportunity to write tickets to anybody that drives a car in the city of New York," said Miller. "We try to give a little bit of relief and also to reflect the diversity of this city."


The Bloomberg administration said is reviewing the legislation; the council has more than enough votes to override the veto.

Diwali is a five-day celebration which occurs in the fall, usually in October or November. This year it runs from November 1 to 5. The parking holiday only applies to the third day of the celebration on the day that Lakshmi Puja is observed.

In 2002, the council passed legislation to suspend alternate side of the street parking rules on the Asian Lunar New Year, Purim and Ash Wednesday. Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the legislation and the council overrode the veto.

The council also received two vetoes from Mayor Bloomberg.

The mayor rejected Intro 468-A known as the "Health Care Security Act," which would require grocery stores with more than 35 employees to contribute $2.50 toward health care for each hour an employee works, or $5,000 a year for a full-time employee. The council estimates that the legislation will apply to 300 grocery stores and ensure health care coverage for 27,000 workers. It also applies to large chain stores such as Wal-Mart that dedicate more than 10,000 square feet of their buildings to food.

The Bloomberg administration argues that it violates the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which limits state and local government involvement in employee benefits.

The mayor also vetoed a bill (Intro 699-A) that bars permits for so-called "stoop-line" stands -- sidewalk stands for fruits, vegetables, candy, ice cream or soft drinks -- unless the city certifies that they will not block pedestrian traffic.

Such regulations already exist, but the legislation puts new requirements on the Department of Transportation to enforce them.

The City Council has 30 days to override the mayoral veto by a two-thirds majority.




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