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NYC City Council Introduces COVID-19 Relief Package

NYC's City Council held its first ever remote Stated Meeting yesterday, and introduced a COVID-19 Relief Package that aims to protect tenants, help small businesses survive, and find creative ways to address the public health crisis brought on by the virus. Highlights include a bill that extends time for COVID-impacted tenants to repay rent and pay back debts, as well as new protections from harassment for all renters, including the City’s small businesses. All of the bills were introduced on Wednesday; the Council will hold remote hearings on each of the bills over the next week and a half.


“We are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis for our City, and mourning the loss of so many neighbors, friends and fellow New Yorkers," said Speaker Corey Johnson. "But even in this dark time, we must be laser-focused on helping New York City emerge from this crisis while prioritizing our public health. These bills provide relief where it is needed most right now, including protecting tenants from eviction. It’s essential that New Yorkers get the rent cancellation they need, but in the meantime, we need to give renters peace of mind that we won’t let them suffer irreparable harms. We’re also protecting small businesses and essential workers, who have been so hard hit. We must take these steps to help make sure that New York City remains the vibrant, diverse and exciting place it was before COVID ravaged our neighborhoods.”  


You can read all provisions of the relief package here, but I have highlighted a few provisions below with regard to small businesses and essential workers below.


Protecting New York City’s Small Businesses

  • Commercial tenant harassment (Sponsored by Council Member Adrienne Adams and Speaker Johnson): With limited federal relief funds, many businesses affected by this crisis will be unable to pay their rent. We must protect the City’s small, independently owned, and immigrant-owned businesses from the threat of harassment, many of which were running on thin margins and struggling to pay rent even before this crisis.  The Council will consider legislation to make threatening any commercial tenant based on their status as a COVID-19 impacted business or person a form of harassment punishable by a civil penalty of $10,000 to $50,000. 

  • Suspending personal liability on commercial leases (Sponsored by Council Member Rivera and Speaker Johnson): The Council will consider legislation to temporarily suspend personal liability provisions in leases and other rental agreements of COVID-19 impacted businesses while the state of emergency is in effect, ensuring that City business owners don’t face the loss of their businesses and personal financial ruin or bankruptcy. 

  • Suspending sidewalk cafe fees (Sponsored by Council Member Andrew Cohen):   The Council will consider legislation to suspend annual sidewalk café fees.  Reducing this fixed cost for the City’s cash-strapped restaurants, bars and nightlife is one common-sense step the Council can take to reduce the severe financial burden that has fallen on these impacted businesses.

In addition, The NYC Hospitality Alliance has advocated for several bills which were introduced. A summary from the Alliance is below:


Delivery Fee Cap and More.

Now, we're happy to announce that the City Council will host a Zoom public hearing on April 29th on more legislation we've been fighting for that would cap third-party delivery fees at 10%, allow restaurants to disclose third party fees to consumers and charge different prices on different platforms, and regulate the industry in additional ways. There are a few delivery related bills we have concerns with about certain disclosures related to delivery worker gratuities, requiring tamper proof packaging, etc. The Alliance will testify on this package of legislation at next week's hearing. Overall, this is really great news! Thank you to everyone who contacted their elected officials and urged them cap delivery fees at 10%.


Hazard Pay and "Just Cause"

Legislation was also introduced in the City Council that would mandate hazard pay of up to $75 per shift for workers employed at essential businesses, like certain restaurants during the state of emergency, and provide "just cause" rights for essential workers, effectively prohibiting employers from terminating employees without meeting complicated requirements. While well intended, we have significant concerns with both bills, which we oppose.


The following is list of the proposed bills with a brief description and links to the full legislative text.

  • Int 1846, This bill would require certain NYC businesses to disclose information about how gratuities are provided to their delivery workers regarding online orders of goods.

  • Int 1895, This bill would require that food packaged by restaurants for delivery includes tamper-evident packaging.

  • Int 1896, This bill would require that third-party delivery services providing restaurants with online orders and delivery services disclose to consumers any commission, fees, or other monetary payments imposed on participating restaurants.

  • Int 1897, This bill would require certain third-party food delivery services to obtain a license in order to provide their service to restaurants in the City.

  • Int 1898, This bill would prohibit third-party delivery services providing restaurants with online orders and delivery services from charging restaurants for telephone orders with customers that did not actually occur.

  • Int 1907, This bill would prohibit third-party food delivery services from limiting the menu prices restaurants may charge on food and beverage orders.

  • Int 1908-A, This bill would prohibit certain third-party food delivery services from charging restaurants more than a 10% fee per order for the use of their service.

  • Int 1914, This bill would make threatening a commercial tenant based on their status as a COVID-19 impacted business or person a form of harassment punishable by a civil penalty of $10,000 to $50,000.

  • Int 1916, This bill requires the Department of Consumer Affairs to waive and/or refund all fees due in the year 2020 related to sidewalk café licenses.

  • Int 1921, This bill requires food service establishments and third-party food delivery services to post sanitary inspection grades on their websites or other online platforms.

  • Int 1932, This bill would prohibit the enforcement of personal liability provisions in commercial leases or rental agreements involving a COVID-19 impacted tenant where the default or other trigger event happened during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

  • Int. 1918, The bill will require employers with more than 100 employees pay to hourly workers $30 for a shift under four hours, $60 for a shift of four to eight hours and $75 dollars for any shift over eight hours. The obligation would end when the state of emergency is lifted.

  • Int. 1923, The bill will prohibit all hiring parties of essential workers from firing those workers without just cause.


“It’s clear the City Council and its leadership have listened to small business owners and are taking quick action to support local restaurants, bars and clubs during the COVID-19 crisis. This package of small business relief bills is a critical step in our effort to save our beloved eating and drinking spots. We thank Speaker Johnson and the Council for their support and urge the swift passage and enactment of this legislation,” said Andrew Rigie, Executive Director, and Robert Bookman, Counsel of the New York City Hospitality Alliance.


The NYC Essential Workers Bill of Rights. The bills would require premiums for non-salaried essential employees at large companies, prohibitions on the firing of essential workers without just cause, and paid sick leave for gig workers. The Essential Worker Premiums Bill will mandate that any employer, employing 100 or more essential workers will be paid the essential worker premium amount, as follows: 


  • $30/hr for a shift greater than 4 hours

  • $60/hr for a shift between 4 and 8 hours

  • and $75/hr for a shift of 8 hours or more.


This legislation also includes sufficient record-keeping and substantial civil rights protections to ensure that these demands are being met. "Our essential workers are putting their lives on the line every day, they must be compensated in a way that reflects their critical contributions to our City’s health and economy," said Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo: "I am proud to have taken part in a historical event and look forward to seeing this legislation enacted. Now more than ever, our government must work for the people we represent." 

Council Majority Speaker also emphasized that a large majority of our essential workers come from our black and brown communities. "There is ample evidence of how our system has failed these communities. Now, it is time to act," she said. "That is why I am proud to stand with my fellow colleagues from the Brooklyn Black Elected Officials Coalition in demanding more robust support for our black and brown communities."


Click here to view the letter the Brooklyn Black Elected Officials Coalition sent to Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo.


To comment on legislation, email your council member. To find yours, click here.


Stay tuned for more on this relief package from our City.


Andrea



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    © by Andrea Strong. Photo by Joachim Wiese.