Weingarten: “Teachers Are Not Abusers of Parking Permits”

teacher_parking.jpg
A car with a teacher's permit on the dashboard is parked beneath a "No Parking Anytime" sign. The license plate number does not match the one printed on the permit. (UncivilServants.org)

United Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten sent a letter to Mayor Bloomberg Friday expressing objections to his plan to reduce the number of city government parking permits and prevent unions and city agencies from printing their own. Weingarten's letter echoed Teamsters president Gary LaBarbera's recent assertion that "parking permits are a form of compensation for teachers"and other city employees (Is anyone paying taxes on that "compensation?" Is it accounted for in any city budget?)

In her letter, reprinted below in full, Weingarten makes three particularly remarkable claims:

  1. "Teachers are not abusers of parking permits."
    A quick visit to UncivilServants.org (or your own neighborhood streets) shows Weingarten's blanket claim is, obviously, incorrect.

  2. "Teachers do not clog areas such as lower Manhattan" with their personal vehicles.
    Not only are teachers' cars part of the Lower Manhattan traffic jam, in a city where 43 percent of elementary school kids are unhealthily obese, teachers and education officials have been known to clog school playgrounds with their personal vehicles. In one notorious case, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum intervened to stop city employees from using the Tompkins Square Middle School's playground as a parking lot in 2004.

  3. Parking permits are necessary to "attract the best and the brightest to teaching" in New York City.
    Really? I'm no education policy expert and I'm sure that some teachers really do need to use cars for work, but do the world's best and brightest come to live and work in New York City for the convenient parking?

I think Weingarten and the unions may find that they are fighting a costly and losing battle here. The public has little sympathy for the maintenance of a city employee parking system that is so blatantly abused. Few issues draw the ire of such a broad range of New York City civic groups as city government parking placard abuse.

A recent Independent Budget Office report found that cops, firefighters and teachers drive to work at double the rate of any other group of New York City workers. Why?

As DOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Schaller told Streetsblog in the very first post we ever published, "Free parking has a tremendous impact on the decision whether to drive or take transit." Moreover, among teachers working in Manhattan, "nearly all of these auto commuters have transit alternatives," Schaller said. His 2006 study found that ninety-five percent of the government employees driving into Manhattan from Brooklyn and Staten Island live in neighborhoods where the majority of their neighbors use transit.

No one is proposing eliminating teachers' permits. Rather, there just needs to be a more centralized and rational system for distributing parking permits based on real need. And there needs to be real enforcement. Hopefully Weingarten and the unions will realize that they are better off pushing for a parking "cash-out" law like California's than fighting to maintain their oft-abused parking privilege.

Here is Weingarten's letter to the Mayor in full:

To:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Deputy Mayor Edward Skyler

Cc:
Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott
Labor Commissioner James Hanley
Chancellor Joel Klein

Gentlemen:

It was deeply troubling to learn -- through media coverage -- of your plan to reduce by 20 percent the number of parking permits issued to all city employees.

On the numerous occasions we have raised the need for more parking for teachers, we have been repeatedly told that this is a collective bargaining issue. If increasing parking availability is a bargaining issue, then clearly, reduction is as well. Now you have apparently chosen, by fiat, to move forward a plan that would penalize the hardworking men and women who teach our city's kids.

Teachers in New York City public schools receive permits that enable them to park on a portion of their school block, during school hours only. Taking away these permits at a time when we're making strides to attract the best and the brightest to teaching (the NYC education workforce is the highest-qualified it's been since the fiscal crisis of the 1970s) makes absolutely no sense. Many city schools are difficult to reach by public transportation, many teachers travel between schools and available parking is clearly one incentive to attract teachers to high-needs schools.

Teachers do not clog areas such as lower Manhattan. Teachers are not abusers of parking permits, and to publicly suggest that they are is deeply troubling. Holding abusers of parking privileges accountable for their actions should not be done at the expense of teachers whose jobs are hard enough already.

I urge you to reconsider your position and would like to meet with you on this as soon as possible.

Randi Weingarten