Public Employee Press: PEP Talk
DC 37 rallies to save 3,200 public parks & jobs
By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
Additional reporting by MIKE LEE
As DC 37 leads the fight for the NYC Parks Department to stop a proposed $60 million cut to Parks in the mayor’s proposed budget, hundreds of union parks workers joined parks advocacy groups on May 26 for a second Play Fair Coalition rally to speak out against the draconian cuts. They also demanded that Parks receive 1% of the city budget and for hundreds of Parks jobs to be baselined.
Mayor Adams’ $99.7 billion executive budget places City Parks funding at just 0.6% of the total city budget, well below the 1% he repeatedly committed to,” said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido. “Once again, our members who maintain and protect City parks are asked to do more with less. Our Parks staff and resources are greatly strained as they’ve been for mor than 40 years. This comes at a time when New Yorkers are relying on parks and open spaces more than ever before.
The Adams’ administration is asking all agencies for a 3% Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) in FY ‘23. Additionally, the City does not plan to backfill vacancies or rehire hundreds of unionized Parks workers.
DC 37 leaders and parks advocates said the proposed cuts would hurt city parks and the millions of New Yorkers who use them every day. New Yorkers relied on public parks more than ever during the pandemic, with visits to public parks, green spaces, beaches, trails, and wetlands up 70% from pre-pandemic levels.
“We were short staffed in 2020 when the City let go hundreds of Parks workers,” said Dilcy Benn, DC 37 Parks Committee Co-Chair and President of Local 1505. “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, people turned to public parks for reprieve. Relief stations were overrun with garbage, debris, and human waste. We did not have enough workers to keep up with the demand for cleaning. Federal stimulus monies saved Parks seasonal workers’ jobs, but that money runs out in June.”
Last year, the DC 37 Parks Committee and the NYC Parks Department put federal stimulus funds to work, saving 3,200 seasonal workers’ jobs from June 2021 through June 2022. The mayor’s proposed budget now jeopardizes these jobs.
DC 37 Parks Committee Co-Chair and Local 983 President Joe Puleo testified that “without funding for Parks Enforcement Patrol Officers and maintenance workers, city parks will go back to the horrific conditions we had at the pandemic’s start with backed-up toilets, broken glass, and hypodermic needles and drug paraphernalia littering playgrounds and endangering children and park visitors.”
Puleo said that with violent crimes on the rise, “Urban Park Rangers and PEP Officers are the frontline for safety in parks. We need 1% of the city budget for parks and we need these jobs baselined now more than ever.”
New York City allocates less than half a percent of its budget for Parks —far less than the 1% to 1.5% typically allocated by other municipalities
“Prospect Park and local gardens are overgrown with invasive trees, weeds, and poison ivy. There isn’t money in the budget for maintenance and planting,” said Daniel Clay, President of Gardeners Local 1507.
Public parks are about climate, racial, and social justice. Climates in poorer communities in the South Bronx, Elmhurst, Queens, and Central Brooklyn are hotter than the climate on the Upper West Side because communities of color do not have enough trees, according to Council member Krishnan.
“We’ve heard over and over again that our parks are the most essential spaces in our city for our public health, for our mental health,” he said.
Parks Supervisors Local 1508 President Vincent Musillo said, “Parks workers are fixtures in local playgrounds, welcoming the community to public parks for the last two years. If the budget for 1% for Parks does not pass, this will end. The effect on children and families will be enormous.
“Parks workers put their hearts and souls into serving New Yorkers only to be told, ‘Hey, thanks for the hard work, but your time with Parks is over’.”
Thousands of unionized Parks workers and New Yorkers support DC 37 and the Play Fair Coalition’s fight for funding and jobs.
“We need a budget that reflects that our parks ARE essential,” Krishnan said. That’s the only way we can ensure every single community benefits from having greenspace and more trees.”
More than 4,400 New Yorkers have signed the Parks Play Fair petition. You can still sign and share the Parks petition sponsored by New Yorkers For Parks and the Play Fair Coalition by going to bit.ly/3PDwb6e