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Opinion: Bronx Working Families Win Significant Victories in State Government

October 7, 2010

Bronx Working Families Win Significant Victories in State Government


In recent months, the working families of our community have won several major victories that will improve the quality of life for thousands of west Bronx residents and their families. Working with my colleagues in the state Legislature, I am proud to have played a key part in this. These historic wins mean that our domestic workers and minority-owned and women-owned businesses will finally have many of the opportunities they have deserved for so long.

One of those key victories was the passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Under this new law, which I co-sponsored as Assembly Bill A. 1470-B, domestic workers will no longer be treated like second class citizens and they will finally be given important labor rights. Employers will now be required to pay domestic workers the state minimum wage, and these workers will be protected against discrimination and sexual harassment. Employers will also be required to give domestic workers at least one day off every week. This important legislation will take effect in the beginning of December.

Working with my fellow Democrats in the state Assembly majority, I am also pleased that we were able to enact several new laws that enhance opportunities for minority-owned and women-owned businesses. One of these new MWBE-related laws, Assembly Bill A. 11525, will expand the number of state contracts available and double the amount a state agency can purchase from an MWBE without being required to go out to bid. Another piece of legislation that became law, Assembly Bill A. 11526, will strengthen the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws and eliminate many of the stumbling blocks that have blocked MWBEs from competing effectively for contracts with state authorities.

These new MWBE laws will open the opportunities for commerce in New York State for many Bronx-based businesses and encourage creation of the types of long term employment opportunities that the adults in our community need and deserve. It will also help level the playing field so that companies affected by discrimination will now have a more equitable opportunity to compete.

Along with these significant new laws, I have joined with my colleagues to support legislation which would raise the pay and improve the working conditions for west Bronx residents who work in the service industry. For years, many of those workers – including janitorial service workers, doormen, groundskeepers, gardeners and security service employees – have not been paid fairly and have not been covered by New York’s prevailing wage laws even though they perform jobs for public agencies and should be included under the protection of those laws. Unfortunately some companies have used contract agencies and other gimmicks to avoid paying service workers the wages they deserve. It is time to stop this practice and bring fairness to the workplace for these New Yorkers.

I have been a strong supporter of the legislation, Assembly Bill A. 10257-D, which addresses this issue and would provide the prevailing wage protections that our workers need. This important legislation passed the state Assembly on July 1st and I will continue advocating for this important reform.

These issues continue to be very important to our community and the families I represent in the state Assembly. I will remain a strong and vocal advocate for this and other legislation that will make a positive difference for the people living in the Concourse, Clarmont, Highbridge, Mount Eden and Morris Heights communities.

Assemblywoman Vanessa L. Gibson represents the 77th Assembly District which includes the communities of Concourse, Claremont, Highbridge, Mount Eden and Morris Heights. Her district office is located at 930 Grand Concourse, Bronx, New York 10451 and can be reached at (718) 538-2000 or via email at gibsonv@assembly.state.ny.us.

Editorial: Swimming Pool Blues

July 2, 2010

Because of ongoing renovations, Roberto Clemente State Park’s swimming pools will likely be closed for the entire summer for the second year in a row – something Leon Johnson, the president of River Park Towers Tenants Association, calls a “disgrace.”

He has a point.

Sure, the pools needed a makeover, and it’s great that they’re getting one, but the State Parks Department’s timing is appalling. Work began last summer, meaning that season was a write-off, and now this one is too.

Why didn’t construction start last fall? If it had, only one summer – this one – would have been lost. Clearly the people making these decisions don’t have local children’s best interests at heart. No wonder Johnson and others are angry.

Autistic Children Threatened With Violence on School Bus

June 4, 2010

I am writing to address my concerns regarding our children’s problematic daily bus routes to and from school. My daughter, Delilah Barber, is a 7-year-old autistic child who attends P.S. 17 at P.S. x179.

On Wednesday, May 6, 2010, her minivan service was changed in err to a large bus, Lonero x056. This change brought great devastation to my daughter, which included daily arriving to school late to the endangering of her welfare.

Leonero’s x056 consists of older children who are extremely violent, rude and aggressive in nature. On Thursday, May 7, when my daughter started this route, she was physically and verbally threatened by other students on this bus. Her bus para received hits on her head, pushes and shoves, on various occasions, as she tried to protect my child. On Friday, May 8 and again on Tuesday, May 11 the police stopped the school bus to stabilize the children’s behavior before they proceeded to and from school. On Monday, May 10, a female child threatened to beat my daughter with her belt. It was only when the para threatened to call the police and press charges that the child stopped the aggressive behavior.

I called the Office of Pupil Transportation to inquire about why elementary school aged autistic children are being transported with emotionally disturbed high school students or why there was such a large student to personnel ratio on the bus. I also made several complaints about the situation on the bus.

After two weeks of advocating, my daughter was removed from this bus. However, there remain young children, who are still being brutalized daily on this bus. Our children deserve the right to have safe bussing service to and from our homes. Fortunately, my daughter had a bus para to protect her. But, many of these non-verbal autistic children have no protectors on these buses.

My hope is that this letter reaches everyone who has the power to further investigate this matter and to make changes in our educational and transportation system.

Melissa Barber, Morris Avenue

Opinion: The Bronx and the Census – The Perfect Storm for an Undercount?

March 5, 2010


Soon millions of Americans will receive the 2010 census form in the mail. While we generally dread government forms, we should welcome this one. In a very real way, the census form, which can be completed in five to 10 minutes in most cases, is as powerful a tool as the right to vote or the freedom to assemble, dissent, and express unpopular opinions. Just as those things are part of the U.S. Constitution, so is the mandate for a census to be conducted every 10 years.

The Census Bureau estimates that $400 billion in federal funds will be disbursed to communities each year through 2020 as determined by formulas based on the 2010 census count. The higher the population count for the Bronx, the more we will benefit from these funds.

In terms of politics, the census count determines how the 435 seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned, as well as how seats in the state Legislature and City Council are allocated. Equally important is the fact that the census count is tied to the number of electors who represent the Electoral College, which every four years selects the President.

Demographers, market researchers, and others who study population patterns believe the Bronx has experienced population growth since the 2000 census. The way to confirm this is for all Bronx residents to be counted in 2010. More people should equal more representatives.

Bronxites face many challenges that could create a “perfect storm” for an undercount. The majority of Bronx residents define themselves as being persons of color. Historically, non-whites are more likely to be undercounted than people who define themselves as white. This is also true of low-income persons: One-third of Bronx residents live in poverty. One in three Bronx residents is a first generation immigrant and the foreign born historically have been undercounted. This is particularly true for those who are undocumented.

According to the 2000 census, in some Bronx communities more than half the people said they did not read or speak English well. With about two in five Bronx residents having a language other than English as their first language, this could result in thousands not being counted.

All of these groups need to be counted. Nobody should be afraid to participate in the census. The data the census collects is confidential and not shared with any government organization, including immigration or law enforcement officials.

Ken Small is the development director of BronxWorks, one of several organizations partnering with the Census Bureau to promote a complete and accurate count. For more information on our efforts, contact Tim Sarraille at tsarraille@bronxworks.org or (718) 508-3153, or Tiara Williams at twilliams@bronxworks.org or (718) 508-3070).

Opinion: Join the Fight to Prevent MTA Service Cuts

March 5, 2010


Thousands of west Bronx residents use mass transit every day and those services are vital to the quality of life we all share. Whether it is the young people traveling to school and tutorial programs or the many adults who take buses and subways to get to work, medical appointments and shopping, access to affordable public transportation is crucial to all of our families.

I am a strong supporter of the transit services our families need and have been working in the state Legislature to protect local bus and subway routes from the absolutely unacceptable cuts proposed by the management of the MTA. These cuts will cost many families hundreds of dollars a year by dismantling the existing student MetroCard program and would harm our residents by completely eliminating the BX18 bus route which travels through Morris Heights. The service cuts proposed by the MTA would also impact many west Bronx residents by reducing the number of hours of the BX32 bus route runs, eliminating the BX41 and making major changes to the Access-A-Ride program.

The elimination of student MetroCards would place a toll gate in front of the doors to our schools as many low income and working families in the west Bronx struggle to pay for the cost of access to an education for their children and I am working with my colleagues in the state Legislature to force the MTA to restore this essential program.

I was one of the first state legislators to take action to support the student MetroCard program, and three months ago, on Dec. 17, I wrote a letter to Jay Walder, the executive director of the MTA, asking him to reconsider this devastating policy. I have also introduced state legislation that would require the MTA to have a free fare student MetroCard program for our children so that the kids in the west Bronx and throughout New York City will continue to have access to the quality education they deserve.

I am taking a leading role in supporting continuation of bus service on the BX18 route as well. This bus service is crucial for residents of the Highbridge and Morris Heights communities and is an essential transit link for many families living along Sedgwick and Undercliff avenues. Without the BX18, those residents would be forced to walk along potentially hazardous streets and would be virtually cut off from more eastern portions of the south Bronx.

The MTA’s own data indicates that the BX18 has a significant number of passengers with 1,780 weekday and 1,130 weekend riders using this valuable bus service. Many of those passengers use the BX18 to get to work and eliminating this service would cause substantial hardships for them and other families in our community.

Now is the time for every resident to help in this important fight to protect bus and subway service in the west Bronx by signing one of the many petitions circulating in our community or by writing to: MTA Community Affairs, 347 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10017.

Working together we can speak with one voice in defense of the public transit services that are essential to our community. I am committed to standing up for the residents of Claremont, the Concourse, Highbridge, Mount Eden and Morris Heights and ask you to join me in the fight to restore these essential bus and transportation services to improve the quality of life in Bronx County and the State of New York.

Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson represents the 77th Assembly District.

Opinion: BCC Must Rethink Decision to Evict High School

February 5, 2010


Rebecca Thomas’ thoughtful article requires elaboration:

1) Bronx Community College claims rapid growth in enrollment is the single cause forcing it to expel University Heights Secondary School (UHHS). This is an unstable basis for a specious argument. Several years from now, when the economy recovers, and students return to four-year institutions, BCC will become a ghost town. It’s illogical to evict a successful high school for what is only a temporary aberration.

2) BCC doesn’t use its own space efficiently. Classrooms and entire buildings sit empty because of poor planning or poor maintenance. The successful educational culture of UHHS must not be sacrificed because BCC’s administration is near-sighted and verging on incompetence. If, as one UHHS student pointed out at the recent town hall meeting, BCC claims they will have nearly 4,000 new students, how will they seat them all by capturing one building that handles 400—one tenth of their purported growth? BCC will gain marginally by commandeering this building but the impact upon the high school will be devastating and permanent. An independent entity must be mandated to survey the entire campus, and offer an alternative plan.

3) BCC Vice-President, Mary Colman, is outrageously trying to pit the students of BCC against UHHS students. To argue that BCC must choose between either their “own” students or those of the high school, is an attempt to force a wedge between people who are all in the same boat. BCC doesn’t have to sacrifice one group of deserving kids to serve another. With thought, both can be well served on this huge 56-acre campus.

4) UHHS has been successful (three consecutive A ratings from the Department of Education, putting it in the top 13 percent of high school citywide; millions of dollars in scholarships won annually by its students) for two very important reasons:

a) Studying on a college campus not only inspires youngsters to strive toward higher education: a high percentage of UHHS students take college level courses at BCC. This engenders a high graduation rate: 85 percent in 2009 compared to roughly 60 percent citywide and between 36-52 percent in the Bronx – depending upon whom you believe. The most important fact supporting this assertion: The vast majority of UHHS graduates – 81 percent – go on to college.

b) The campus is a safe haven in the most dangerous borough in New York City and the poorest urban county in the United States. Students don’t pass through metal detectors or suffer the indignities of being wanded entering their building. If you attend a school that feels like jail and treats you like a prisoner, you are more likely to behave like a prisoner than a scholar.

5) The DOE must help solve this problem. If BCC has its heart set upon full 24-hour use of Nicholls Hall (current home of UHHS), then the DOE should build a new state-of-the-art high school on the BCC campus for the University Heights community. Once it is up and running and UHHS is moved in, Nicholls Hall can be reprogrammed for BCC’s needs. UHHS must remain on this campus. It is the only high school in this council district. In the meantime, BCC and UHHS can share Nicholls Hall. The building is only used by the high School during normal school hours. What about evenings for college students? What about weekends? This is a workable interim solution while building the new school.

6) Where is the Teachers Union (UFT) in this battle? Many dedicated teachers have spent their entire careers working at UHHS. It is unconscionable to allow the city to squander the work of these successful pedagogues who have labored for decades building a strong school. Inaction by the union won’t be tolerated by its rank and file. The UFT must protect its teachers from reprisals by an ungrateful or embarrassed DOE.

7) Finally, UHHS’ school community— parents, students, alums, teachers, staff and many former students now attending BCC, spoke unequivocally at the meeting – “We will negotiate in a public forum. But we will not be moved!” As Captain John Parker said to his small band of Minutemen on Lexington Green facing the better-armed British army on April 19, 1776—“Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a way, let it begin here.” We know who won that war.

Legiardi-Laura has been a guest teaching-artist at University Heights High School for the past eight years.

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