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An effort to block the MTA’s congestion pricing plan is gaining union support, with the Municipal Labor Committee having voted in favor of filing an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit by the Staten Island Borough president and the United Federation of Teachers.
Harry Nespoli, who chairs the MLC, said a major reason the unions back the lawsuit is because they believe more research needs to be done to assess how congestion pricing will affect pollution in the outer boroughs.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency noted that congestion pricing could have negative air quality outcomes in the Bronx, Staten Island and Bergen County because of increased traffic. The plan, expected to go live this spring, will establish a $15 toll for most drivers entering Manhattan’s Central Business District between 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends.
“What we’re saying is have you had the quality of air checked in these areas before you do this? Apparently they haven’t, and that’s wrong,” Nespoli told The Chief in a phone interview.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew raised concerns that many of the neighborhoods that would be impacted by increased traffic already have poor health outcomes such as high asthma rates. Earlier this month, the union and Staten Island’s Borough president, Vito Fossella, filed a lawsuit seeking a permanent injunction against the plan. They also want an order for the federal agencies overseeing the plan to conduct a complete environmental impact statement.
Nespoli explained that the MLC decided to back the suit after getting calls from member unions about the issue. After meeting with the MLC’s executive board and steering committee, the MLC held a vote among its 102 unions – one of them being the UFT – about whether to support the lawsuit. Nespoli said that 78 percent of the unions within the MLC voted in favor of filing the amicus brief.
The MLC chair lamented the lack of exemptions for city workers, particularly those — like many of the employees he represents as president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association — who have to drive into the city to work.
“Everybody’s concerned about what the cost is going to be for our members,” he said. “My members are required to go in and out of the borough on a regular basis. I just think there should be some exceptions to this.”
The Traffic Mobility Review Board, which drew up the congestion-pricing proposal, decided against providing an exemption for public workers because they also aren't excluded from paying existing tolls.
But Nespoli noted that many sanitation workers were required to come work in Lower Manhattan for 12-hour shifts to clean up after Hurricane Sandy for more than a month straight following the storm.
“If there’s a disaster in Lower Manhattan, like Sandy, [they’re] coming from all over the boroughs. Why should we have to pay for this?” he asked.
Electeds also opposed
Gregory Floyd, the president of Teamsters Local 237 and the MLC’s secretary, said in a statement that “Municipal workers are being asked again to empty their pockets to make the politicians happy. Our response: forget about it.”
Additionally, 18 elected officials have decided to join the lawsuit as co-plaintiffs, Fossella and the UFT announced Monday. They include Assemblymembers Michael Reilly and Aileen Gunther, Senators Jessica Scarcella-Spanton and Andrew Lanza, as well as City Council Members Joe Borelli and Kamillah Hanks. Civil rights organizations The A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement have also decided to join the suit.
“We appreciate the support from elected officials and interested groups, as this fight cannot be won by any one of us alone,” Fossella said.
The Staten Island Borough president’s office filed an amended complaint in the Eastern District of New York on Friday alleging that the “fast-tracked tolling program” violated state and federal environmental laws.
“It is unconscionable that the City would knowingly and deliberately increase the air pollution of our borough for the next fifty years, especially after making Staten Island suffer from fifty years of the Fresh Kills Landfill,” Fossella said. “It seems what this is really about is allowing the MTA to plug a billion-dollar hole in its budget.”
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