On Sunday, the Bronx community rallied after the New York Sanitation Department harassed and threw away edible food from a street vendor’s stand on Pelham Parkway. The Bronx is a food desert where more than one in five residents experiences food insecurity. Diana Cruz, an immigrant street vendor in the Bronx, is one of 20,000 other street vendors in New York City, most of whom are unlicensed. Their unlicensed status gives the City and the NYPD the excuse to harass them and destroy merchandise, even when it’s fresh edible food that millions of New Yorkers cannot easily access.
Defending the rights of street vendors has become critical, ongoing work in recent months. More people became street vendors out of necessity as restaurants and businesses shut down last year. These same workers, who were shut out of a living wage, now face an increased crackdown by the city, because the city government prioritizes corporate interests and doing the bidding of property developers over the livelihoods of 20,000 street vendors.
It is criminal to throw away crates of food as New Yorkers go hungry and to destroy the livelihood of precarious immigrant workers. Yet, this is business as usual for New York City. Diana Cruz has tried for five years to obtain a license to avoid the type of harassment she faced last week. She was denied each time. New York City has a low cap on street vending permits: 5,100 for food vendors and 853 for general merchandise vendors. The rest of the 20,000 vendors are left to fend for themselves, either illegally renting a permit which can go for as much as $30,000 for a $200 permit, or putting themselves at risk by vending without a license.
Cathy Rojas calls for an immediate decriminalization of street vendors, a living wage for all workers, and a lifting of the cap on street vending permits. She supports Senate Bill S1175 and Assembly Bill A5081, which will lift the caps on street vending permits and decriminalize street vending once and for all, eliminating the legal basis for this type of vendor harassment.
Rojas says, “Every worker should have a right to a job and a right to a living wage. It is utter hypocrisy to give people fines, harass and arrest them and then not provide them with jobs. The story repeats itself over and over: workers are left to fend for themselves in a capitalist system. The city budget could reflect prioritizing people’s needs such as ensuring employment for all, small business grants with no strings attached, a livable wage to every person in New York City. We can release the funds for these crucial reforms if we tax the rich and slash the NYPD budget. Things don’t have to be this way. We know that if we struggle, we can win. Organizing and collective power have proven to be the antidote against exploitation and greed. I salute the organizations on the ground fighting for the dignity of immigrant workers.”