away: Practicing Muslim and UAlbany student Zahra Shah.
Photo by Teri Currie.
Muslim woman turned away at roller rink after refusing to
take off her headscarf
Zahra Shah showed up to roller skate at Guptill Arena two
weeks ago, the last thing that she expected was that she would
not be allowed into the rink.
Shah, a University at Albany senior and a practicing Muslim,
was told when she visited the popular Latham roller rink on
Nov. 24 that in order to be allowed to skate, she had to remove
was really surprised,” said Shah. “I tried to explain that
I wear my scarf for religious purposes, but the guy at the
front door refused to let me skate.”
Shah claimed that the doorman, whom she was not able to identify
by name, told her that the arena’s policy prohibiting headscarves
(as well as hats, bandanas, etc.) is for insurance reasons:
If the garment were to fall off, another skater could trip
over it and get hurt. “What really angered me was how he treated
me,” said Shah. “After I explained to him why I wear my scarf,
he just turned his back and refused to acknowledge me.”
Ayesha Rashied, who was with Shah at the time, insisted that
the rink was violating Shah’s religious rights. The two women
then asked to speak to a manager, but were told that none
was available at the time. The doorman, Shah said, simply
explained that those were the rules and there was nothing
that that could be done to change them.
think we were discriminated against because we are Muslim,”
said Shah. “They are just not used to such diversity. If it
was a Jewish person with a yarmulke I doubt they would have
had the same problem.”
When Shah got home, she immediately called and wrote to Guptill
Arena, expressing her disappointment and frustration. She
also contacted Campus Action and the New York Civil Liberties
Union to get some advice about what had taken place earlier
that day. She received a phone call from Tony Labede, a manager
at the rink, who apologized for the incident.
said that he was sorry,” said Shah, “and that if I brought
a note in from my Mosque saying that I wear the scarf for
religious purposes, then I could skate. But that seems to
go against the so-called strict insurance policy I was originally
told about. I mean, if the issue is safety, then how can a
note help that?”
She explained that Labede compared wearing a scarf to cowboys
who religiously like to wear cowboy hats.
is discrimination,” said Shah. “They can’t go on discriminating
Charles Martin, the general manager of Guptill, said that
the whole incident was a big misunderstanding and that he
was surprised to hear that Shah was still upset.
thought that when Tony called, it had all been cleared up,”
said Martin. “The employee at the door that day made a mistake
and he did not understand our policy. She does not need a
note from her mosque. She can come in and skate anytime.”
But Shah said that is not what she was told on the phone.
“If that is what they said, then why would I still be upset?”
While Shah has since received a call from Martin, who reasserted
his apology and assured her that she can come back to skate
without removing her scarf, she said that she is saddened
that it took a barrage of letters from local advocacy groups
and phone calls from the press in order for the matter to
get cleared up.
did apologize,” said Shah. “I guess the important thing is
that Guptill has either revised its policy or has clarified
it to their employees, but I think this is what many Muslims
have been facing in the past year, and it is time for a change.
These types of misunderstandings should not be taken lightly.”
representatives claim that a subcontractor to a New York state
agency is blocking efforts to unionize
local labor union continues to clash with a cleaning contractor
that won’t grant its employees the right to unionize.
Organizers from the Service Employees International Union
200United have been asking Pegasus Cleaning Corp. to allow
a number of its employees—custodial workers at the New York
State Department of Labor building in Albany—to unionize.
Though 14 of Pegasus’ 30 janitors at the building want labor
representation by SEIU 200United, the employer refuses to
give its consent.
the workers want to unionize,” said Pegasus spokesman Rob
Coleman, “they can petition the [National Labor Relations
Board] for a vote.”
According to the National Labor Relations Act, an employer
must ultimately recognize its employees’ intent to unionize
by either granting consent voluntarily or through intervention
by a labor board and a certified vote. By not voluntarily
recognizing its workers’ wishes, Pegasus has forced the union
to petition the labor board, an option that Richard Drucker,
a lead organizer with SEIU 200United, said is useless.
is a small unit with a lot of turnover,” Drucker said. “And
it takes almost three months to petition the labor board for
By the time a certified vote could be set up, Drucker said,
the employees looking for labor representation might be gone.
Drucker also said his union’s efforts are further stifled
since he and other union officials are no longer allowed within
the DOL building during the night shift, when the majority
of janitors are on the job. “They have all the access and
we have none,” Drucker said.
Since October, SEIU 200United has been holding pickets in
front of the DOL building demanding that Pegasus recognize
the wishes of its workers.
But Coleman denied that his company has been bullying its
workers, and said DOL safety regulations, not Pegasus, have
kept union officials out of the building.
can make arrangements to get into the building, and they can
always talk to the people outside the job,” Coleman said.
But Drucker said it’s not easy to contact the workers before
or after their shifts. Many of them work two jobs, unable
to support a family on janitorial work alone. Workers at Pegasus
said they make $8.33 an hour without benefits; union officials
said they would raise that to $10.33, a figure that includes
a benefit package. It was this offer that sparked the interest
of “Len,” a janitor in the DOL building who wished to remain
anonymous, fearing repercussions from his employer.
Len, 20, supports his girlfriend and their 2-year-old son
on two jobs, including the full-time janitorial position he
has held with Pegasus for the past four years. Len said the
union wage increase was of great interest to him, as he has
yet to receive a raise from Pegasus.
just don’t give them out,” said Len. “The owners don’t want
to give more money; it’s all about putting money in the boss’
Redd, another janitorial worker in the DOL building (who agreed
to use his nickname, but not his real name), said he was interested
in hearing what the union was offering as well. Although the
union’s offers were enticing—along with the wage increase
and benefits package, officials from SEIU 200United promised
workers compensation for their time working below the union’s
prevailing wage—Redd said he was not looking for union representation.
said we could sign a piece of paper for more information,”
said Redd. “The next thing we know, it’s a petition we signed
for a union. I didn’t want to sign no petition. To have us
sign a petition under false pretenses, that’s not right.”
But Drucker said his union has been up front with its intentions
toward the janitors, and chalks Redd’s experience up to a
had conversations with those folks,” Drucker said. “Either
they didn’t hear me or they were persuaded to think otherwise.”
But according to Redd, management has not been pressuring
the janitors one way or another. While Redd went on to explain
that the union trying to organize the workers has created
a lot of confusion for the janitors in the DOL building, Drucker
said that has not been his union’s intent.
they want to join our union and build a movement, we’ll take
them,” said Drucker. “If not, at the point that they say no,
we respect that. We don’t want to strong-arm people because
that just means that we have a weak union with people who
don’t want to be in a union.”
Pegasus’ contract with the DOL is up for renewal on Jan. 1,
2003. Coleman said the contractor will be looking to get raises
for its employees in a new contract, but Drucker said that
offer is just to counter the union’s, and doubts that Pegasus
will give the workers what they deserve.
for the Counties
costs skyrocket, and counties across New York face fiscal
is making counties throughout the state of New York fiscally
ill, but Albany County Comptroller Michael Conners said he
has a proposal that is just what the doctor ordered.
Nearly every New York newspaper in the past two months has
dedicated some space to the county tax increases, some of
astronomical proportions, that have been dominating budget
discussion throughout the state. Locally, Rensselaer, Albany
and Schenectady counties are looking at total tax increases
of 25, 24 and 12 percent respectively, and the culprit is
the same: an increased share of the county budget being devoted
to cover the rising costs of Medicaid.
Medicaid is the health insurance program offering benefits
to low-income adults, children and families, and indigent
seniors living in nursing homes. By and large, these increases
in Medicaid expenditures are attributed to two factors: an
overall downturn in the economy, putting more people out of
work and in need of such services; and a general rise in health-care-
related expenses, including prescription drug costs, and the
cost of operating hospitals.
But what has been devastating to county budgets is how Medicaid
costs are absorbed within the state. New York is one of only
four states in the nation, along with North Carolina, Florida
and New Hampshire, that makes county governments pay a share
of its Medicaid costs. In New York, the federal government
picks up 50 percent of Medicaid expenses, and the state and
county governments split the remaining costs.
is the largest single mandated program in the county budgets,”
said Robert Gregory, executive director of the New York Association
of Counties. “The problem is that the counties just pay the
bill and don’t have any control over the scope of the program.”
And the scope of the program has expanded dramatically over
the past few years, Gregory said. According to numbers provided
by NYAC, Medicaid costs absorbed by the counties outside of
New York City have increased by 25 percent over the past seven
years, with the lion’s share of the increases, 21 percent,
coming in the past three years.
Conners said that his plan, giving jobless Medicaid recipients
work as home health-care aides to elderly individuals on Medicaid
who can no longer care for themselves, attacks the Medicaid
problem from two angles.
is a cost-containment program,” said Conners. “A long-term
goal is to address a great weakness, that there is not a community
outreach program for the mentally ill or the elderly. And
the poor are now in charge of their own health care.”
And hiring previously unemployed Medicaid recipients as county-employed
home health-care aides would make these individuals eligible
for the county’s health insurance.
say, ‘Hey look, you can handle your health care,’” Conners
said. “[Currently] you have a system based on dependence,
but this can be a way for people to help themselves. We have
a system based on giving people fish. I’d like to see it built
on teaching people to fish.”
While it may be more cost-effective to send a home health-care
aide into an elderly Medicaid recipient’s home for a few hours
a day as opposed to having Medicaid cover nursing-home costs,
some have expressed concerns over Conners’ plan.
concerns would be, if people are jobless, why are they jobless?”
said Mark Dunlea of the New York state Green Party. “Lack
of jobs is one thing, but I get suspicious when people are
jobless and receiving Medicaid.”
Dunlea said the Green Party advocates a universal or single-payer
health-care plan. “Nineteen to 30 percent of health care costs
go to private insurers’ profit margins,” Dunlea said. “[A
single-payer plan] provides freedom of choice as to who cares
for you, it gets rid of private health-care companies, the
amount of forms and paperwork you have to fill out. And the
doctors will no longer have to think of who is covered by
what program to receive what treatment.”
Conners’ plan is not the only proposal circulating in public-finance
circles statewide. Gregory said the counties association is
calling for a cap on the local share so counties would not
have to pay more than they did in 2001. Erie County’s executive
has proposed a one-percentage- point increase on the state’s
sales tax, and others have asked to raise the state’s personal
of Medicaid services is a mandate to the detriment of other
county programs,” Gregory said. “Whether you’re talking about
roads or what have you, all of these become discretionary
when you have a state or federal program growing at a rate
you can’t control each year.”
According to a study by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid
and the uninsured, Medicaid expenses will continue to rise
nationwide by about nine percent every year through 2012.
According to Conners, Albany County’s Medicaid expenses from
September 2001 through August 2002 were $270 million, approximately
150 percent of the county’s property tax. If the county’s
expenditures continue to grow at the Kaiser Commission’s estimated
rate, Albany County would spend $600 million on Medicaid in
for peace: Women Against War.
Photo by John Whipple
women come together to show their opposition to war
all in black, nearly 30 women converged on the marble steps
inside New York state’s Legislative Office Building last Thursday
to launch a chain fast for peace. The fast represented a cross
section of Capital Region women who are opposed to an impending
war with Iraq.
am fasting because I cannot support a preemptive military
strike that will inevitably lead to more violent confrontations
around the globe and in the United States,” said Nadya Lawson,
program director of In Our Own Voice.
country is moving in a troubling direction,” said Rev. Beth
Illingworth, a Presbyterian minister. “Our leaders are motivated
by fear, self-righteousness and desire for power. This Women’s
Fast for Peace redirects our energy and thoughts toward a
wiser way of caring for this planet and her inhabitants.”
So far, more than 45 women in the Capital Region have signed
up to participate in the fast, which many are hoping will
last until International Women’s Day on March 8. Each member
has agreed to fast for a 24-hour period beginning at 5 PM
each day at the Women’s Building on Central Avenue in Albany.
During the fast, women will spend their time making phone
calls to local and national politicians and working on a variety
of antiwar projects.
we first launched this fast we did not know what kind of turnout
to expect,” said Erin O’Brien, executive director of the Women’s
Building. “But we have had such an overwhelming response.
I just hope we can keep it up and hopefully stop the war.”
The fast is being organized by a new organization in Albany
called Women Against War. O’Brien, also a member of this group,
said the whole idea started with just 12 people in the living
room of a friend’s home in October.
were just a group of women that wanted to do something to
show dissent against the war,” said O’Brien. “So we started
Women Against War, but I don’t think anyone expected it to
grow as quickly as it has.”
The group has since increased in size from 12 to 50 women
in just two months. O’Brien attributes the rapid growth mainly
to word-of-mouth and e-mail conversations.
spend a lot of time sharing information through e-mail about
the situation in the Middle East and discussing peaceful,
effective ways to get our message across,” said O’Brien.
At this point, she added, the group is starting to gain national
and international attention, with members as far away as Chicago,
Washington, D.C., and Canada.
All those involved in the fast and Women Against War are calling
on President George W. Bush to stop the invasion of Iraq,
which they believe will inevitably kill thousands of innocent
Iraqis and also endanger the long-term health of American
military personnel. The fast is designed to mobilize women
to create a culture of peace rather than war.
believe that the Bush administration’s determination to wage
war on Iraq will increase rather than decrease global terrorism,”
said Dr. Judith Fetterley, a professor in the English department
at the University at Albany. “I do not want my children to
inherit such a world, and so I feel I have a responsibility
to do everything that I can to prevent this war from happening.”