At the end of June, workers in a parks maintenance program called the City Cleanup Corps received notices that their contract was suddenly ending. The letters shocked both workers and their union DC 37, which was under the impression that City Hall had made a handshake agreement to preserve all Parks Department jobs as a part of the city budget.
Though City Council Parks Chair Shekar Krishnan and DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido intervened to prevent layoffs within a day of hearing about them, a question remained: why had the notices been sent out in the first place?
According to a source familiar with the matter, City Hall did not communicate its pledge to the Parks Department after the budget was finalized.
The contract for the City Cleanup Corps, which former Mayor Bill de Blasio had originally created with pandemic relief federally funding, was originally set to expire at the end of June. Krishnan maintains that Council received a verbal commitment from the Mayor’s Office to retain every parks position through the summer, including the group of over a hundred cleanup corps workers who had not yet been absorbed into the seasonal Park Department positions.
Somehow, though, word did not make it to the Parks Department about that part of the deal before they sent out the termination reminders.
After being told that their job would last through the summer as part of the budget negotiations, a number of workers received notices informing them their positions were ending the next day.
The city, union and Council have disputed the number of workers who would have been affected. Krishnan and DC 37 insisted that 200 workers were going to lose their jobs, saying that the figure was confirmed by the Parks Department at the time.
When reached for comment by amNY, however, Parks reported that it was only 120 workers who would have been laid off and only 40 of them received notices that their contract was being dropped. The Cleanup Corps contained 1,800 workers in total — 1,680 of which had been transferred to seasonal positions by the time the notices went out, according to the city.
“The city budget is an ongoing fight that doesn’t end at the time of the handshake. During negotiations, the Administration made a commitment on behalf of the Parks Department that all jobs would be preserved. I was proud to fight for the largest budget for the Parks Department in NYC history—a historic budget for parks workers—so I made sure that the agency honored the commitment that City Hall made,” 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 leftover City Cleanup Corps workers, but “proud” to extend the positions.
“As CCC workers were always aware, their positions were set to expire on June 30, 2022 – and nothing in the budget changed that – but we are proud the administration was able to extend 80 CCC workers permanently and the remaining 120 through the end of the summer,” said a spokesperson from the Mayor’s Office.
“This was an oversight,” said Garrido, who explained that the termination notices were automatically sent out after the Office of Budget and Management did not extend the contract following the budget deal.
“We were able to fight to get the restoration for these 200 people’s lives, which would’ve been affected as a result of losing the job. So we’re proud of that,” he said.
Krishnan said that it took a day of talks with the city to ensure that it would extend the contract for 200 workers — 120 by the city’s account — through Sept. 15.
The work of Parks maintenance employees began to take on new meaning at the peak of the pandemic when the city’s hiring freeze led to piles of trash bags and unkempt lawns in parks across the city.
During his campaign, Mayor Eric Adams seemed to take notice. He promised to spend 1 percent of the city’s budget — around $1 billion — on the city’s parks, but when push came to shove his first budget agreement fell short of that by over $375 million.
The extension of the Cleanup Corps contract comes as parks advocates raise concerns that maintenance staff continue to be stretched thin to the point where basic tasks like trash, lawn and athletic field upkeep are challenging.
“This summer, like the previous two summers, we’re seeing record numbers of people in the parks and the strain on the parks themselves and on the staff that maintain them is pretty brutal,” Adam Ganser, the executive director of New Yorkers, told amNY.
To address these issues, Krishnan touted the creation of over 715 new permanent positions in the Parks Department. He described it as a historic number of new staff to add in one year, though, Ganser noted, some of those new positions were merely transferred over from openings that the Council has funded in previous years to being a baselined part of the city budget.
Both Ganser and Krishnan vowed to continue trying to hold the mayor accountable for his campaign promise about parks during the rest of his tenure.
“We are absolutely looking for more details, more plans and more information on when that is going to happen during his time as mayor,” Ganser said.
Krishnan has also framed the issue as where the city needs more federal help to continue funding projects like the Cleanup Corps on a permanent basis.
“We are trying to come out of the pandemic. We need much more comprehensive, permanent schemes, much like we had during the New Deal,” he said.