AN OPEN LETTER TO COUNCIL MEMBER ERIC ULRICH
Council Member Eric Ulrich was first elected to the NY City Council in 2009. He is the only Republican from Queens and represents Rockaway Peninsula as well as South Richmond Hill, Howard Beach, South Ozone Park and Woodhaven.
Queens is also a fairly conservative borough and home to many carriage horse drivers. According to his City Council page, Mr. Ulrich is only 28. This means he was 7 years old when the last big fight to control and regulate the out of control carriage business occurred. This resulted in the drivers being able to work their horses in many parts of the City, with no thought to public safety. The Mayor at that time was Rudolph Giuliani, followed by Michael Bloomberg, neither a friend to animals.
As a Republican Mr. Ulrich's support for a ban on horse-drawn carriages was not expected, but at least he was not trying to hurt the administration by spilling his guts to the Daily News just for attention. Well that all changed. On Friday, February 13, the NY Daily News published this article telling how Mr. Ulrich decided to speak out.
I sent the following e-mail to CM Ulrich's chief of staff about this article:
I make reference to the article in the Daily News on Friday, February 13th about Council Member Ulrich making the decision to oppose the bill to ban horse-drawn carriages.
Please show this e-mail to the Council Member. I understand that everyone is entitled to their own opinion - but as the old saying goes - not to their own facts.
This is the quote attributed to the Council Member:
"I believe that every New Yorker, not only carriage drivers, should have access to a good paying job, retirement security, and the opportunity to give their kids a better shot at life. That is what the American dream is all about and that is what is [at] stake here," he said. And this: "cannot, in good conscience, vote for any legislation that would deny hardworking people a chance to earn a decent living."
I agree with the Council Member. Everyone should have access to a good paying job with benefits -- just like members of the City Council do. But the NYC carriage trade is not that, which is what the Council member is referring to in this context. I have been working on this issue consistently since 2006 but before that since the early 1990s. We have tried for years to shut it down because it is inhumane, unsafe and operates on a laissez faire basis. The authorities have looked the other way. My research is based on truth, talking to people who previously worked in the industry.
GOOD PAYING JOBS: There are about 250 people who have a license to drive a carriage; not 300 or 500 or even 1,000. Of those 250, about 60-65 are the owners who own the 68 medallions.
- The balance of that number is:
- part timers or others who hold on to the license because it is inexpensive -- much cheaper than the license to drive a pedicab. This is because the carriage trade has always had access to the City Council members and those in high echelons of government. After all, it all began with former Mayor William O'Dwyer in the late 1940s.
- one woman operates her business in Cape May, NJ and no longer works in NYC
- another owner lives in Sicily and comes to the city a few times a year to collect his money.
- others whose names I recognize live out of town, no longer work in the industry and keep the license to pad the numbers.
- The only people you are protecting by not supporting the bill are the owners -- not the drivers. Their business model is questionable and dishonest to say the least. It is a cash only business. You have undoubtedly heard that it generated $19,000,000 annually. This is the number that has been bandied about for some time. It is a fabricated, contrived number put out there to compare that income to what might come in from the electric cars. it is made up. There is no way to prove this because it is not one big industry but many small ones that file separate tax returns. The amount reported to the IRS is far, far less, which means a very small number is given over to NYC income taxes.
- The Teamsters Local purportedly representing the carriage drivers is not a real union shop. Not everyone belongs to it. There was never a vote. What legitimate union puts owners and workers in the same local? It simply does not happen. The Teamsters' role is that of bullies/lobbyists, to put the fear of God in Council Members implying they will work against them in the next election. Consequently, there are no benefits -- no health care, vacation or sick days, 401K's, etc. Nothing. This is what you support.
- When you speak of retirement security - what exactly do you mean - other than the owners keeping their sweet cash only deal while the authorities - yes the City Council - look the other way while the industry pays as little tax as possible. It is corruption.
- But the ones who get a really bad break here are the workers. Most, if not all, are independent contractors - misclassified. They get 1099s and not W2s. They make little and have nothing to save for their "retirement" as you call it. It is up to them to pay their own income tax and Social Security. Those who need health care are often on medicaid.
- The workers should have the opportunity to get a real solid job - possibly in a real union - with benefits and the opportunity to fund a 401k for their retirement. A robust job program, which has been offered (and will be worked out) by the deBlasio administration will really help these workers.
- Why couldn't you wait until the Environmental Impact Study was completed before you decided to "oppose" this bill. Why couldn't you offer to work with the Administration to develop those "good paying jobs with retirement security" -- for everyone - not just the Entitled 68." This would have been a great opportunity for a Republican to be part of this solution.
- Two of the stables are in the path of the Hudson Yards Redevelopment project - one on 37th St. and one on 38th St. Each property is worth about $10,000,000. The owners are waiting for the right time to sell. It will happen - sooner rather than later since redevelopment is moving along. If this bill fails, when the stables are sold, many workers/drivers will lose their jobs, while the owners retire in luxury. It will be too late to provide an alternate industry for them at that point. Many will access public assistance since they are probably not eligible for unemployment insurance. Is this OK with you? In the meantime, you could have been helping them into a real job with benefits.
So Councilman -- this is what you are really supporting because you have some disagreements with the deBlasio administration. Corruption, paltry jobs, questionable union practices -- workers who are forced to go on Medicaid because their incomes are so low they cannot afford insurance.
Did you ever question why the media is mostly on one side of this issue? They are certainly not the experts.
You still have the opportunity to do the right thing and be on the right side of history and support this bill; to make this a more humane city - not just for animals, which many people care about - but for the exploited workers. I believe people look at those in politics with new respect when they change their mind and admit that they were wrong. It is a sign of character. Former Mayor Bloomberg did that when he spoke out in favor of the pedicab business when the carriage owners were trying to ban them.
If you want to read the truth about any of these issues, you will find it here. We are a totally volunteer, grass roots organization, originally founded in 1994 and then focusing on the carriage horse issue in 2006. No salaries - no conflicts of interest.
Very truly yours,
President / Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages