NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio was the candidate of choice for labor unions in the mayoral elections last year, but his proposal to ban horse-drawn carriages has labor standing against him.
“This is a poor solution to a nonexistent problem. Government should be creating jobs and preserving jobs,” said Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, which represents 1.3 million working New Yorkers.
There are 300 jobs at stake, labor organizations say. On Monday, the horse-drawn carriage drivers and stable workers were backed by almost every trade union on the City Hall steps.
Hours earlier, animal rights activists were celebrating the introduction of the bill at the same spot with the sponsors of the bill, council members Daniel Dromm, Ydanis Rodriguez, and Margaret Chin, who announced she would be signing on to sponsor the bill as well.
The movement to ban horse carriages in the city has gone on for years, and this is not the first ban proposed. The majority of the council is still undecided, and it is not clear whether the labor-friendly City Hall will push to pass the ban, even with a mayor and speaker who resolutely support it.
All horse-drawn carriage licenses would expire by May 31, 2016, with no renewals. Horse-carriage rides would be banned the following day, and violations would result in fines of $25,000, imprisonment not exceeding 15 days, or both.
To replace those jobs, de Blasio wants to offer displaced worker training and reimburse the workers for permits for accessible green cabs.
Horse carriage and taxi drivers said they were insulted by the proposal.
Bhairavi Desai, executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said under current rules, the carriage drivers would need to hold a TLC license for a year, and it takes up to four months to process a new license, she said.
“This is nothing but an empty promise. No new jobs are being created,” Desai said.
A machinist union representative said their members were offered similar worker displacement training when industrial companies left the city decades ago, but that only led to low-wage jobs, if at all.
At a morning press conference, Dromm said they were open to other employment ideas and the possibility of electric vintage cars in place of the carriages in Central Park.
“Animals do not belong on the streets of New York City, plain and simple,” Dromm said.
Animal Rights & Politics
For supporters of the carriages, it is a labor and political issue. Supporters of the ban say it is an animal rights issue.
From 2009-2014, there were 25 hit-and-run incidents between horses and other vehicles, according to police records publicized by NYCLASS, an organization fighting to ban the horse-drawn carriages. There have also been a number of fatalities that have sparked outrage.
The bill includes a provision that ensures none of the 200-some horses would go to slaughter, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has committed to helping the horses find new homes.
Donny Moss, created a documentary on poor working conditions of carriage horses after a 2006 horse fatality. They are by nature “flight” creatures that are dangerous to themselves and others if they are spooked, he said, and are herd creatures that need pastures to graze and interact with other horses.
Professor Janine Jacques, an equine advocate based in Boston, says these horses get that pasture-like exercise in Central Park. In contrast, race horses are kept immobile in small stalls for upwards of 20 hours a day, she said, and it shows in the fact that they are retired after five years. Performance horses retire by 17. The carriage horses can work until 24.
Early last year, Jacques started receiving inquiries left and right from concerned horse lovers, wondering whether the New York City carriage horses needed rescuing.
So she came to the city, studied the horses at Central Park, and visited the stables.
“I’ve seen no signs of abuse,” Jacques said.
A 2010 law requires the horses 15-minute breaks for every two hours of work, five weeks of vacation every year, limited working hours, and disallows work above or below certain temperatures. That they are friendly with strangers also shows they are comfortable with people, according to Jacques, which is not the behavior of horses that have been abused.
The frequent walks through Central Park are good for the horses, Jacques said, and they do not need rescuing. About 150,000 horses are slaughtered annually. “If you’ve got 200 homes, I’d like to fill them with horses that are slaughter-bound.”
Stephen Malone, an owner and driver of a horse-drawn carriage, said he would feel betrayed if he was offered a green cab permit. His family has been in the business for 50 years, and he is passionate about the job.
He became emotional at the thought that animal rights groups or the city could take away his horses and sell it somewhere else. “We’re not going anywhere.”
The bill will be given a hearing in the Transportation Committee, and chair Rodriguez said he believes both sides can come to a “win-win” agreement that both removes horses from streets and provides adequate alternative employment.