NYC restored more than 100 parks ‘Cleanup Corps’ positions after fumbling budget promise
In late June, workers at a park maintenance program called City Cleanup Corps were notified that their contract was suddenly ending. The letters shocked both the workers and their DC 37 union, which felt City Hall had reached a handshake deal to preserve all Parks Department jobs as part of the city budget.
Although City Council Parks Chairman Shekar Krishnan and DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido intervened to prevent the layoffs within the day after hearing about it, one question remained: why the notices had been sent first?
According to a source familiar with the matter, the town hall did not communicate its commitment to the parks service after the budget was finalized.
The contract for the City Cleanup Corps, which former Mayor Bill de Blasio originally created with federal pandemic relief funding, was originally set to expire at the end of June. Krishnan argues the council received a verbal commitment from the mayor’s office to retain all parks posts over the summer, including the group of over a hundred cleanup corps workers who had yet to be absorbed. by the seasonal positions of the Parks Department.
Somehow, however, the Parks Department was not made aware of this part of the agreement before sending out the termination reminders.
After being told their jobs would last through the summer as part of budget negotiations, a number of workers received notices telling them that their shifts were ending the next day.
The city, union and council disputed the number of workers allegedly affected. Krishnan and DC 37 insisted that 200 workers would lose their jobs, saying the figure was confirmed by the Parks Department at the time.
However, when contacted by amNY for comment, Parks said only 120 workers were reportedly fired and only 40 of them received notices that their contracts were terminated. The Cleanup Corps had 1,800 workers in total — 1,680 of whom had been transferred to seasonal positions by the time the notices were issued, according to the city.
“The city’s budget is a permanent fight that does not stop at the moment of the handshake. During the negotiations, the Administration made a commitment on behalf of the Parks Service that all jobs would be preserved. I was proud to fight for the biggest budget for the Parks Department in New York history – a historic budget for parks workers – so I made sure the agency honored the commitment made by the town hall,” Krishnan wrote to amNY in a statement.
In response, City Hall drew a sharp distinction that it was not obligated by the budget document itself to extend the contract for the remaining City Cleanup Corps workers, but “proud” to extend the positions.
“As CCC workers have always known, their positions were set to expire on June 30, 2022 – and nothing in the budget changed that – but we are proud that the administration was able to extend 80 CCC workers permanently. and the remaining 120 until the end of the summer,” a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said.
“It was an oversight,” said Garrido, who explained that termination notices were automatically sent after the Office of Budget and Management failed to extend the contract following the budget agreement.
“We were able to fight for the restoration of the lives of these 200 people, who would have been affected by the loss of their jobs. So we are proud of that,” he said.
Krishnan said it took a day of talks with the city to ensure it would extend the contract for 200 workers – 120 by the city’s count – until September 15.
The work of park maintenance workers began to take on new meaning during the height of the pandemic when the city’s hiring freeze resulted in piles of trash bags and neglected lawns in city parks.
During his campaign, Mayor Eric Adams seemed to take notice. He promised to spend 1% of the city budget – about $1 billion – on city parks, but when the pressure came his first the budget deal fell short of that by more than $375 million.
The Cleanup Corps contract extension comes as parks advocates worry that maintenance staff will continue to be stretched to the point where basic tasks like maintaining trash, lawns and sports fields are difficult.
“This summer, like the previous two summers, we are seeing record numbers of people in the parks and the pressure on the parks themselves and the staff who maintain them is quite brutal,” said Adam Ganser, executive director of New Yorkers, says amNY.
To address these issues, Krishnan touted the creation of more than 715 new permanent positions within the Parks Department. He described it as a historic number of new employees to be added in a year, however, Ganser noted, some of these new positions were simply transferred from openings the Council funded in previous years to become a core part of the city budget.
Ganser and Krishnan have vowed to continue trying to hold the mayor accountable to his parks campaign promise for the rest of his term.
“We are absolutely looking for more details, more plans and more information on when this will happen during his time as mayor,” Ganser said.
Krishnan also framed the problem as the city needing more federal help to continue funding projects like the Cleanup Corps on a permanent basis.
“We are trying to get out of the pandemic. We need much more comprehensive and permanent programs, much like we did during the New Deal,” he said.