As the launch date for the controversial congestion pricing plan approaches, opposition from city labor unions. some of whose members work within the zone, is gaining momentum. The latest to join the opposition is the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC), representing approximately 400,000 public sector workers.
“Teachers, firefighters, police officers, EMS workers, sanitation workers, and other public sector workers who are essential to the fabric of New York City would be forced to shoulder the burden of the MTA’s latest fundraising gambit,” according to the suit. “Some are already considering changing jobs because of the proposed tolls.”
The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossela initially spearheaded the lawsuit, which has now garnered support from civil rights groups, unions, and 18 elected officials.
Its backers say congestion pricing will reduce air pollution, cut vehicular traffic into the city and raise $1 billion for the MTA to use to upgrade mass transit. Its backers include Gov. Kathy Hochul and most of the community boards in Manhattan, Manhattan borough president Mark Levine. Mayor Eric Adams was supportive although he has said he is looking for more exemptions for some class of drivers.
Critics say the promise of environmental benefits are misleading. “It wouldn’t really reduce pollution and congestion. It just transfers it from Midtown to other locations in the city,” said Dick Riley, press secretary of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).
Paul Caminiti, a member of UFT and a special education teacher from Staten Island who drives to lower Manhattan to teach, contemplated teaching in Brooklyn to avoid the extra costs during a phone interview with Straus News. “I do enjoy where I teach. So I don’t want to leave obviously. But It wouldn’t be a truthful thing to say that I haven’t thought of ‘if I have to spend this extra money, I can go someplace else,’” he said.
The plan would add a $15 congestion fees to his existent $13-$20 commute fee. “There’s a whole area inside of Manhattan that is not really accessible from public transportation. Why isn’t anyone talking about that” he said. Caminiti would have to travel for more than an hour to go and from his workplace and rely on an extremely unreliable bus to make it to his work with public transport.
When approached for comment, the MTA redirected Straus News to NY state Governor Kathy Hochul’s remark in a news conference, “We get sued every day, get in line.”
The MTA has said the congestion pricing toll will cut air pollution by reducing the traffic into the city by 20 percent. The estimated $1 billion in toll revenue will be directed to the MTA to enhance mass transit.
“Governor Hochul kept saying these lawsuits are gonna stop people from getting good new subway trains, meanwhile she gave the Buffalo Bills like $800 million or something to build a stadium and which is owned by a billionaire,” said Caminiti. “If she really cares about those people that need trains, she should give money to the trains to help the people as opposed to a billionaire football team,” said Caminiti referring to Hochul committing $600 million to build the new Bills stadium.
In addition to financial concerns, the lawsuit mentions the possibility of air and noise pollution shifting to other boroughs and lack of exemptions for people with disabilities and essential workers.
The Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) also joined the lawsuit, voicing concerns for the Latino community. “Latinos in the Bronx, a community already facing severe health challenge due to the limited access to healthcare, are particularly vulnerable in facing this specific topic. Many residents suffer already from asthma and the congestion pricing plan could potentially worsen their health situation,” said Carmen Rodriguez, communications director of LCLAA.
Raymond Jensen, the assistant director of United Auto Workers Region 9 that represents around 50,000 members in the tri-state area, said, “the working-class people already have enough a burden on them just to try to make ends meet, and they’re going to have to pay for congestion pricing. It’s just not fair.”
He mentioned that they are lobbying politicians to listen to working-class people. “Firefighters that travel throughout the city that don’t know where they’re going to be, they might end up having to pay this pricing as well. It’s another attack on working people. It’s time that we put our foot down and draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough,” he said.
“We’re not coming into Manhattan once a week for dinner,” said MLC head Harry Nespoli in a statement to NY post on Feb 6. “We’re coming in every day to proudly serve the people of New York City.”
While legislators upstate and on Long Island were against the plan, most of the community boards in the city as well as Mayor Eric Adams and borough president Mark Levine, were supportive of congestion pricing. But in Albany, when pressed neither Adams or city Council speaker Adrienne Adams (no relation to the mayor) offered full blown support to the proposal that was submitted in December by the Traffic Mobility Board for public comment.