By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
Hundreds of DC 37 Parks workers joined City Council Parks Chair Shekar Krishnan and Parks advocacy groups at the Play Fair Coalition rally at City Hall on March 22. The union is leading the fight for the Parks Department to receive 1% of the city budget, for hundreds of Parks jobs to be baselined, and to stop a proposed $60 million cut to the Parks budget.
“We urge the Administration to restore $60 million in funding, to baseline jobs and to increase Parks funding to 1% of the city budget,” said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido in a statement. The current City budget proposed for fiscal year 2023 is $98.5 billion.
Hundreds more viewed the virtual City Council Parks Committee hearing that followed the rally and thousands are signing the petition. If you were unable to attend the rally, you can still support. Click here to sign and share the 1% for Parks petition sponsored by New Yorkers For Parks and the Play Fair Coalition.
The administration is asking all agencies for a 3 percent Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) FY ‘23 that may result in a $60 million cut to the Parks budget. It is an abysmal defunding not seen since the 1970s fiscal crisis, DC 37 leaders said. Additionally, the City does not plan to backfill vacancies or rehire hundreds of unionized Parks workers.
“The City cannot afford to make cuts to services and staff,” Garrido said. “It is unthinkable to ask our members who are frontline essential workers to sacrifice yet again and do more with less.”
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 COVID-19 pandemic. Visits to public parks, green spaces, beaches, trails and wetlands were up 70 percent 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 and about 3,200 seasonal workers remained employed from June 2021 through June 2022. The proposed FY ‘23 budget 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: backed up toilets, broken glass, hypodermic needles and drug paraphernalia littering playgrounds and endangering children and park visitors.”
“Violent crime is up,” Puleo said. “Urban Park Rangers and PEP Officers are the frontline for safety in parks. We need 1 percent of the city budget for parks and we need these jobs baselined now more than ever.” Many other municipalities allocate between 1 and 1.5 percent of their budget to fund public parks; New York City allocates less than half a percent for Parks.
“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.
“We’ve heard over and over again, our parks are the most essential spaces in our city for our public health, for our mental health,” said Council member Krishnan.
Public parks are about climate justice, and 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, Krishnan said.
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,” said Krishnan. “We need 1% for parks. That’s the only way that we can ensure that every single community benefits from having greenspace and more trees.”
Additional reporting and photos by Mike Lee.