CENTRAL PARK — A union for transportation workers has joined forces with hundreds of pedicab drivers in their fight to continue doing business in Central Park.
City officials earlier this month announced a plan to ban pedicab drivers from operating below the park's 85th Street Transverse by June 1 this year as part of a deal to cut the number of horses by more than half and build a new stable in Central Park by 2018.
The Transport Workers Union Local 100 (TWU) is stepping up to remove the ban on pedicabs from the deal, cut as part of an agreement between the Teamsters Union, which represents the carriage industry, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who initially vowed to do away with horse-drawn carriages as part of his campaign.
"Pedicab drivers were not even in the equation and the city thought it was OK to cast them to the side," said John Samuelsen, the president of TWU Local 100. "Our goal to get them out of the legislation — that has to do with the broader issue surrounding the whole horse and carriage situation between the Teamsters and de Blasio."
The TWU also plans to provide training, legal advice and other assistance and organize the pedicab drivers' effort to keep their business, which for many exists primarily in the park below the transverse, according to Samuelsen.
"It’s actually a terrible commentary on society, if nobody stands up for a group of workers that are being so clearly abused by monied interests," he said. "We're stepping in and fighting back. This legislation is completely devastating to a couple hundred livelihoods. It would strip the ability of pedicab drivers to earn income because there is nothing for them above 85th Street."
There has been little explanation as to why pedicabs wouldn't be allowed below 85th Street. Mayor de Blasio on Jan. 19 explained only that it was done to "balance" competing park uses.
The City Council will likely hold another public hearing and vote on the bill on Friday morning during its transportation committee meeting, according to a spokesman for the council.
Ibrahim Barrie, a pedicab driver who is working with TWU Local 100, said the backing of the union is necessary because the city has so far refused to lend an ear.
"We are sending a message to [the mayor], 'Please invite us to the table,'" Barrie said. "I'm not a lawyer. I'm an immigrant. We have to win this and have to stay together because people are losing hope. The mayor is trying to destroy us, but maybe somebody out there will say 'Leave these poor guys alone.'"