Article contributed by Kathleen Reilly, NYSRA
New York City is known as a difficult and competitive business environment, and that has been made only more difficult over the last 5 or 6 years with an onslaught of policies that are burdensome to the restaurant industry.
With steep increases in minimum wage, paid sick leave, and predictable scheduling piled on top of high rents, property taxes, and regulatory hurdles from every city department, restaurants in New York City operate in an increasingly challenging atmosphere. They already struggle to absorb the costs current measures impose and keep up with their regulatory obligations, this alone is no easy task.
But in the spring and summer of this year, even more policies that could inflict damage on the restaurant industry were introduced. At the New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA), our advocacy team has been busy working to clearly convey our members’ perspectives and the very real impact these policies would have on them. Two proposals that would be especially detrimental to the restaurant industry are exclusive commercial waste zones and a paid vacation mandate.
Commercial Waste Zones
Spurred by cases of dangerous practices by private waste haulers and a broader interest in the environment, the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) conducted a study to investigate how reorganizing the private waste industry into a zoned system could improve outcomes for workers and the environment alike. While our members are skeptical of altering the market conditions that afford them their current haulers, they do appreciate that DSNY’s plan would allow for 3-5 carters to service each zone. This would give business customers much-needed choice and switching power.
However, Council Member Reynoso introduced conflicting legislation that would create exclusive waste zones – one hauler per zone – disregarding the interests of the business community and eliminating all choice and customer leverage. NSYRA has been a strong voice of opposition to exclusive zones, and testified at the City Council hearing on this legislation in June. This legislation is still being considered in committee, and we continue to urge City Council to arrive at a solution that finds a balance between what is acceptable for the environment, workers, and businesses.
Paid Time Off
On a different front, Mayor de Blasio in January revealed his goal of passing legislation that requires all employers with five or more employees to offer two weeks of paid vacation. The vacation time would accrue in a manner similar to existing paid safe and sick time, and it would be available to part- and full-time employees. As the Mayor attempts to expand his package of benefits to all workers, the small business community has called out the policy for what it is: an unfunded mandate on the backs of small businesses. The proposal disregards the immense costs of providing this benefit, and ultimately is cavalier about whether or not local businesses keep their doors open.
In response to this policy proposal, NYSRA has joined a large number of business industry allies to advocate for small businesses and protect them from this damaging proposal. As a group, we held a rally to bring attention to the wider small business landscape, and how ill-equipped this leaves businesses for yet another unfunded mandate. Our members have contributed personal op-eds on the topic, and we are jointly asking Council Members to think of their districts’ small businesses and refrain from signing onto this proposal.
The opposition to this policy is wide-spread and organized, meanwhile, the only one appearing to push the legislation is Mayor de Blasio, and in his absence, his administration. If the Mayor claims that paid vacation is a moral imperative, then the City should be part of funding and administering the benefit. If it is not a moral imperative, then there is no justification for making small businesses spend tens of thousands of dollars on de Blasio’s policy. We will continue to ask City Council to think beyond ideals and focus on costs and practicality, and protect our small businesses from being pushed over the edge.
Advocacy in New York City is especially important given the City’s propensity for trend-setting. At NYSRA, we recognize that we’ll often be on the frontlines of new policy developments in New York City, and we are constantly working to set a positive precedent for the rest of the country. It is a challenge, but one that we are well prepared to take on for our members, and the industry at large.
Kathleen Reilly is the NYC Government Affairs Coordinator for the New York State Restaurant Association.