A horse is led down the ramp at the West Side Stables in New York City. (Amy Pearl/WNYC)

Unions plead the cause of the Carriage Horse Industry to New York’s Mayor

The New York Daily News reports:

“Leaders of the city’s most powerful unions — including many of Mayor de Blasio’s staunchest allies — are balking at his plans to banish horse carriages from city streets.

“The Central Labor Council, an umbrella group representing more than 1.3 million workers, fired off a letter to de Blasio and the City Council pleading with them not to axe the “iconic and thriving industry.”

“‘As one of New York City’s top three tourist attractions, the industry provides millions of dollars in revenue as well as hundreds of reliable, well-paying middle-class jobs,’ the letter reads.”

The key phrase here may be “including many of Mayor de Blasio’s staunchest allies”.

“The signers included United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew; Hector Figueroa, head of the service workers union SEIU Local 32BJ, and Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez. It’s the first time any union leader has spoken out against a de Blasio policy,” the report continues.

This illustrates what is really at the center of this hotly debated issue, and it does not appear to be the horses. From the beginning it has come across as almost exclusively political. If it truly is about the safety and welfare of the horses, strictly speaking it is difficult to make a case for keeping them.

The recent Open House at Clinton Park, one of the stables that houses off-duty carriage horses and attended under mega-watt publicity generated by Liam Neeson, did not help the side of the carriage horse drivers. It demonstrated to those who understand horses what they already know, that these type of stables are anything but ideal living conditions for horses. To those who have seen nothing else or have differing standards, they probably appear perfectly fine.

Insofar as the yearly turnout where horses can graze and just be horses for awhile — referred to as “vacations” — there seems to be no tours of that in the works or anyone coming forward to say, yes they entertain some of the New York carriage horses on their property for awhile every year. But say that happened. Would that make the case of the carriage horse drivers stronger? It would dispel the notion that the horses are not sent on “vacation” at all but in reality sent to work for the Amish, an accusation made by the groups against horse drawn carriages. However, whatever the truth of that is, horses need regular turnout not just a few weeks a year. They certainly do not need to be sent on “working holidays” after months of toiling in the city.

Perhaps the argument that is most often used is that the carriage horse business in New York is highly regulated. It may be. But we all know no matter how many regulations you have and how well-intentioned they are, if there is no one around to enforce them then they are essentially useless.

Given the circumstances surrounding horse drawn carriages in the hustle and bustle of New York — the elements, the traffic, the noise, the pollution, 9 hours shifts (I was told by drivers when I lived in New York that they work two horses per day, not a single horse for one long day — perhaps that is done by some), available housing — it just does not seem a tenable proposition.

How serious Mayor de Blasio’s threat to close the carriage horse industry down remains to be seen. The following may give us a hint.

The same report states:

“Although de Blasio said during his campaign the ban would be one of his first acts as mayor, First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris said Monday the carriages will be around for a while.

“‘We’ve got a fair amount of work to do on how we’re going to execute on that commitment,’ Shorris said.”

Read full report >>
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Featured Photo Credit: A horse is led down the ramp at the West Side Stables in New York City. (Amy Pearl/WNYC)

3 thoughts on “Unions plead the cause of the Carriage Horse Industry to New York’s Mayor”

  1. THE CENTRAL LABOR COUNCIL IS LYING TO THE MAYOR:

    1. it is not 300 union workers from the carriage trade. About 300 or fewer people own a carriage license. Many are part time and some actually live out of state and in other countries like Sicily. This is not a union shop meaning that they do not offer collective bargaining or health/vacation benefits. The owners and workers (who have no vested interest) are in the same local. The “dues” are $60 a month, which is essentially a lobbying fee. Far fewer drivers belong to the union.

    2. This is absolutely not one of the three top tourist attractions. Both Foder’s and Frommer’s have spoken out against it. Last time I looked it was not even on the web site of NYC and Co.

    3. The so called reforms from 2010 were not reforms at all. The purpose of that bill was to give the drives a rate increase. The larger stalls simply codified what some of the drivers already had but are still less than half what they should be. Defending 60 sq. ft. stalls as being adequate for these horses, most of whom are draft breeds and can weigh upwards of 2,000 pounds, is embarrassing.

    4. The so called vacation is another travesty – Horses need daily turnout. For 47 weeks weeks of the year they get nothing. But to further complicate things, the DoH never required a list of “farms” and they are not inspected. The former ASPCA vet, Pam Corey, was quoted in the NY Post in 2011 as saying that many of the horses look worse when they return from furlough. We have heard inside talk that some of the horse owners offer their horses for use on Amish farms where they are not fed well in exchange for saying they went on vacation.

    5. Hundreds of working families? That is an exaggeration. Steve Malone/carriage owner has said it was between 150 and 160 people.

    6. This is a cash only business, which by the very nature of their industry, does not contribute appropriately to the NYC tax base.There is no information out there – other than speculation – about how much they bring in since they are all individual businesses and the IRS would have to pour over all of their tax filings. They should all be investigated by the IRS.

    7. Tourists do not come here for the carriage horses – to imply that is outrageous and insulting to us and the mayor. Tourists come here for the Broadway plays, Lincoln Center, the finest museums, shopping restaurants, etc. etc. But please let’s not have our intelligence insulted by the union about NYC losing tourist dollars.

    This Central Labor Council is the reason many people hate unions. They do not deal with reality and try to bully people into submission – especially the Teamsters. Real unions could have been a good thing – but many are corrupt – just google; many of the union leaders make huge salaries while they ‘defend’ low wage employees, squeezing union dues from them. It is their “cash cow.”

    My suggestion to the CLC – why don’t you put the same time into negotiating contracts with the city and the Teamster municipal workers who were forced to join your union. They are just the poor working guys who have not had a contract in 5 + years but continue to pay high dues to you — you who do nothing but defend a non union shop about something you know nothing about. And what about the time lost by your Teamster members during Hurricane Sandy – they were not paid although buildings where they worked were shut down. Why don’t you earn your inflated salaries!

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  2. The Central Labor Council hasn’t seen the horses either (a statement commonly used to try to deflect the negative remarks about the conditions of the horses by people outside NYC). I’m sure they care nothing for horses.

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