This post is also available in: Spanish
By Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T.
As you have no doubt seen and heard, two recent arrests of immigrant women vending churros (a long donut like pastry) has resulted in a huge controversy. I’ve linked 3 of the many articles on this below my personal comments.
The media and elected officials have feigned outrage over the 2 arrests and they are linking the arrests to 2 new proposed vending laws which, if passed, will forever change NYC vending – for the worse. The 2 arrests are being used as “proof” that all the vending laws need to be radically changed. Need I mention that the Street Vendor Project, a City Council funded front group that has spent years trying to eliminate the rights of street artists, helped write these 2 proposed laws and is using all of its resources to get them passed? The City Council bill was cooked up by by a giant food vending corporation [MOVE SYSTEMS] funded by Wall St billionaires, the Street Vendor Project and a corrupt City Council Speaker with direct ties to the food company. [for details see: https://www.facebook.com/stopintro1303/ ]
Suddenly, both the media and the elected officials are pretending that vendor arrests are either unknown or rarely happen and they are further pretending that this was some kind of racist attack by the NYPD on Hispanic vendors.
The reality is that all vendors experience some degree of harassment. There are thousands of vendors arrested in NYC each year and tens of thousands summonsed. These women had many previous summonses for vending in the subway and simply refused to stop doing it. These were legitimate police actions not harassment.
One can feel sympathy for anyone being arrested or summonsed while at the same time recognize that there are vending laws for a reason. Food vending laws are, to my thinking, the most reasonable vending laws.
These 2 women were unlicensed, had no food vending permit, a completely illegal cart and were vending in the subway, which is illegal for all vendors regardless of what they sell. If there is any type of vending that actually needs to be closely regulated, it is food vending.
A single food vendor with a communicable disease, a dirty cart or who mishandles food, can create an epidemic. That’s why food carts require a vending license, a food cart permit and a certification in proper food handling. They don’t want food vending in the subway because NYC subways already have a huge rat problem and food vending will make it much worse. Imagine trying to get into a subway car or out onto a rush hour subway platform that is crammed with food carts.
For most of my life I worked as an illegal vendor. I am not opposed to anyone getting a vending license; but I am opposed to fake vending reform that pretends to be about helping poor vendors but is actually about helping the biggest and wealthiest food vending corporations.
The 2 proposed laws are a scam. They want to completely eliminate any cap on how many food vendors there can be and make getting the license and permit very easy. Sounds good right?
But there’s a catch.
A legal food cart has to have hot and cold running water. They cost anywhere from 5 to 50 thousand dollars. The cart and the food has to be stored in an authorized commissary, which would cost many thousands more. And, they still won’t be able to vend in the subway, let alone vend from a cardboard box on top of a shopping cart.
What’s more, these proposed laws provide that a vendor getting 4 summonses loses their license; the City Council bill puts all vending decisions into the hands of the BIDs; and the State law gives cities and parks the right to create any new limits on vending they like.
What’s the real agenda behind these 2 proposed laws? Is it about helping poor immigrant vendors?
Apart from scoring points for political correctness, it’s about helping giant food corporations take over all vending. A food vending company can only own 1 food vending permit. By increasing the number of permits out there (removing the cap) these food vending corporations can temporarily buy up thousands of permits from the vendors who obtain them, exactly as they do now with a huge black market in food vending permits.
Once the streets are completely overrun with thousands of new food vendors, the City will have no choice but to create a concession system, exactly as exists throughout NYC Parks, where 2 or 3 companies own every food cart and stand. Immigrant employees paid less than minimum wage run these stands. That’s the wonderful future the elected officials are setting up for the vendors they are pretending to help.
When you see these hypocrite elected officials posing as champions of the vendors, don’t forget that it is these exact same pols who wrote the vending laws and who mercilessly pressure the police to enforce them.
The very same media outlets pretending to be outraged about these arrests, such as the NY Times, have spent decades demanding crackdowns on vending. In fact, the NY Times started the Times Sq BID, one of the most anti-vending organizations in NYC.
One might ask, how is this different from the City arresting artists in the hundreds from 1993-2001? Didn’t we protest hundreds of times? didn’t we try to change the vending laws?
The difference is that artists were already considered to be First Amendment protected by the NY District Attorney as early as 1993. Every one of those arrests were illegal and unconstitutional. There is no Constitutional right to vend food in the subway. Moreover, we changed the vending laws in such a way as to help all vendors.
In fact, under the rights we won, immigrant vendors can legally sell books, art, cds, dvds and other First Amendment related materials without any license or permit.
These proposed bills are poison to every form of vending.
Please stop exploiting immigrants to make yourselves appear to be enlightened public servants. You are fooling no one.
[NOTE: The writer has vended in NYC since 1962 as both a street artist and a food vendor]