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Clean Organizing
The newly formed Workers’ Rights Board hears testimony from janitorial service workers

With International Justice for Janitors Day as the backdrop, custodial workers from around the region provided testimony to the newly formed Capital District Workers’ Rights Board Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

The board, a mix of local labor organizers, religious leaders, community activists and elected officials, wants to gather information about the working conditions and benefits afforded to nonunion custodial workers and others without labor representation employed in low-wage service-sector jobs throughout the region. It is a project of the Capital District Labor-Religion Coalition.

Paul Williams, who is employed by New Visions (formerly Albany County ARC) to clean offices at Albany’s Harriman Campus, told the board about his struggle to have his employer recognize his coworkers’ intent to unionize.

“I was hesitant to come out here today because other people have been fired for speaking out and trying to organize,” Williams said. “But that’s got to stop and that’s why I’m here. I need your help.”

The board, whose members include Assemblymen Robert Prentiss (R-Colonie) and Jack McEneny (D-Albany), Albany County legislator Wanda Willingham (D-District 3), attorney David Soares, community activist Carmen Rau and the Rev. Joyce Hartwell, will compile workers’ testimony from this hearing and any additional comments they receive in the 10 days following the hearing, and produce a report to be released to the public, elected officials and local business leaders.

“The business community needs to know that they have a responsibility to provide a safety net for the people who work for them,” said Fred Pfieffer of the Service Employees International Union, who helped organize Tuesday’s hearing. “These aren’t the boardroom executives we’re talking about. These are the invisible workers who come in after hours when everybody leaves and work through the night and they struggle to make ends meet.”

Kendall Broussard, 47, and Rocky Caldwell, 48, contract janitors at Verizon’s Albany headquarters on State Street, attended the board’s initial meeting Tuesday in the purple and gold of their new union, SEIU 200 United. Broussard and Caldwell helped unionize their workplace, and their union was recognized in March by their employer, the janitorial contractor Dynaserv Industries. The change has led to a number of improvements in the workplace and some added weight to their wallets.

“Yeah, there’s that extra dollar an hour in the paycheck,” Broussard said, “and it makes a difference.”

Neither Broussard or Caldwell offered any complaints for the board to investigate; they just came to show support for others looking to unionize. “[These benefits] don’t come free,” Caldwell said. “In order for the union to work, you’ve got to be there, you’ve got to show up and be counted.”

Pfeiffer, whose union has spearheaded a movement to unionize custodians throughout the country under the name Justice for Janitors, said SEIU represents approximately 300 janitorial service workers throughout the region and estimates that another 1,500 to 2,000 nonunionized custodial workers exist throughout Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady counties.

“We need to do a better job of moving people out of poverty,” Pfeiffer said. “The best way to do that is to go back into our core industry, the service sector, and organize it industrywide. That means all the janitors pushing for the same standards, regardless of who their employer is.”

David Easter, community co-chair of the Workers’ Rights Board, said that while the first step toward providing better working conditions and benefits to low-wage workers throughout the service sector is to document the struggles, he doesn’t want the board to become a paper tiger.

“We don’t want to just issue a report,” Easter said. “We need to think about which issues, which struggles, we want to focus on specifically and take action to push those forward.”

—Travis Durfee

Re-cycling Lesson
Youth in Equinox program learn about maintainence and ownership with Troy Bike Rescue

‘Oh, ya’ll brought locks, too,” Geoff marveled aloud as he and his 15-speed Murray mountain bike waited for the elevator at Equinox’s Albany headquarters on Monday evening.

“Yeah,” said Eric Breitung, 31, of Albany, looking down at the half-dozen U-locks he held in his hand. “I thought about bringing the cable kind . . .”

“Nah, they’d cut that shit,” another youth said, finishing Breitung’s thought.

“Snap it,” Geoff added.

“Now you could lock this up in the ’hood,” the other youth said, satisfied with the strength of the 258-millimeter Master Lock after testing it with all his might.

In exchange for learning basic cycle maintenance and furthering their paths to self-sufficiency, Geoff and six other youths from Equinox’s independent-living program received free bicycles, helmets, locks and water bottles, all donated by members of the Troy Bike Rescue.

(Since most youth in Equinox’s independent-living program are minors, their real names were not used in this story.)

Equinox’s program aims to guide youth who’ve experienced homelessness, or are from troubled homes or foster care, to independence through a mix of counseling and supervised housing. For promising to finish high school or earn a general equivalency diploma, steer clear of drugs and alcohol, and maintain steady employment, Equinox provides youth ages 16 to 20 with a safe place to stay and counseling to help get them on their feet. The program, which can handle approximately 25 youths and three children, currently has 19 youths, and the children’s places are filled. Equinox collects half of the youths’ income for rent, which is returned once they find a place of their own.

“It’s kind of like a savings account,” said Jenny Rowland, a case manager with Equinox. “This way when they move out on their own, the youth can pay for their security deposit or buy some furniture for a new apartment.”

Monday’s lesson on the road to independence was all about life’s cycles—that is, its bicycles. Breitung and two other TBR members set up shop in the basement of Equinox’s main offices at 95 Central Ave. in Albany, rolling eight aged 10-speeds and mountain bikes from the back of a silver pickup. It was a mixed bag: a baby blue Schwinn Traveler touring cycle, a nameless 24-inch black 10-speed, Black Jazz and Purple Magna mountain bikes, and another Schwinn, this one pea-green with a spring-cushioned seat.

“I’m telling you, that’s my truck, right there,” the young man in the oversized white T-shirt and slightly cocked baseball cap said, eyeing the pea-green Schwinn as he circled it.

“That’s your Cadillac?” one of his female peers asked jokingly.

“That’s my Escalade,” the youth said, evoking laughter.

TBR began its mission to fix and redistribute neglected bicycles in Troy in 2001 [“Cycle Recycle,” Newsfront, April 17, 2003]. And sure, TBR members could go on about the economic, environmental and health benefits of bicycles as a form of transportation, but the group really just wants to spread the love of The Bike: “I just like to see kids riding bikes,” said TBR’s Patrick Gillham, 19, of Albany.

“The idea is to create a community of bikers so that we can compete with cars,” Breitung said. “Albany’s pretty tough; there’s not a lot of road space or designated bike lanes. The more bikers out there on the road, the more likely it is that we will be noticed and the less likely it is that we’ll get hit by cars.”

The group has since moved to Albany and is still collecting bicycles, which it provides to the community for tax-exempt donations of $25 to $50. Breitung said the group has a stockpile of roughly 20 ready-to-ride bikes, though the group is looking to find some of better quality.

“Right now we have an overabundance of crappy, rusted bikes, and we’re looking to get some more that are ready to be shipped out with a few minor adjustments,” he said. “The kind of bike people would sell at garage sale for 5 or 10 bucks—that’s what we’re looking for.”

Breitung said the group plans to host fix-a-bike nights in parks and other public places throughout Albany during the summer, the first of which took place Wednesday in Washington Park. Information on similar events in the future can be found on the group’s Web site, www.breathing

The Equinox youth took to their new bicycles with zeal as TBR members explained how to properly maintain a bicycle, including keeping the tires adequately inflated, the chains well-lubed and the brakes tight.

“The only thing I really don’t know how to do is how to mess with the brakes,” Geoff said, adding that even if he wanted to fix them he had no tools at home. Geoff said he tries to use his bicycle as much as possible, just to get around and to go to and from work or school. Every outing he makes on his bike is one less bus ride he has to pay for. Presented with the opportunity to tighten his cycle’s spongy brakes Monday night, Geoff was eager to learn.

“And if your brakes need further adjustment you can unscrew this,” Liam Tallon concluded, pointing to the caliper’s adjusting barrel as Geoff, head tilted and eyes fixed, leaned his face over the knobby tire. After a few more minutes of tweaking with Tallon and a quick spin around Equinox’s basement, Geoff was satisfied.

“Definitely, the brakes are much better—I’m loving the brakes,” he said. “Thanks,” he added cheerfully.

—Travis Durfee

Photo by: Alicia Solsman

Call Off Your Dogs
Couple’s arrest on animal-breeding violations spells bad timing for Gov. Pataki’s plan to eliminate mandated breeder inspections

Two weeks ago in Troy, Joseph Patalino and Vicki Rivas were arrested and removed from their 4th Avenue home. Also removed that day were their 74 dogs, roughly 30 birds, one large iguana, and their three children. Authorities believe the home was being used as an illegal breeding site. The 74 dogs were all purebreds, including Pomeranians, Boston Terriers, Chihuahuas, Jack Russell Terriers, and Chinese Cresteds, which would have each brought the couple up to $2,000. Patalino and Rivas were not licensed pet dealers, and none of the animals appeared to have any vaccinations against rabies, mandatory in New York state. The living conditions in the home were found to be unacceptable to Child Protective Services, which removed the couple’s three children.

According to animal-protection groups throughout the Capital Region, an incident like this is not all that uncommon. “Backyard breeding,” as it is called, is a practice of illegally breeding animals for sale without being registered with the state and without following standard breeding practices set forth in state law. Situations such as this one were what sparked the creation of the Pet Dealer Consumer Protection and Animal Care Standards Act in 2000. The act stipulates that all breeders in New York state be licensed as pet dealers, and requires pet dealers to disclose to consumers the vaccination and medical history of each animal they offer for sale. Registered pet dealers in New York state also have to undergo inspection of their facilities by the State Department of Agriculture and Markets. Inspectors look for such things as proper animal care, housing, vaccinations, clean cages and a steady water supply.

Although the law is only four years old, and has been in full effect for only two years due to funding problems, Gov. George Pataki is proposing an elimination of the inspection component because of budget concerns. Stacy Wolf, director of legislative services for the American Society Prevention Cruelty to Animals, called the Troy incident “bad timing” for Pataki’s proposed amendments, and said “removing the mandated inspection component of the law will leave the state no means to ensure that dogs sold by pet dealers receive appropriate housing and veterinary care. Consumers who spend so much financially and emotionally on their pets will also have no means to ensure that they receive the medical history information to which they are entitled.”

Wolf isn’t the only animal-rights activist concerned about the potential change in breeding law; Bob Guyer, executive director of Mohawk & Hudson River Humane Society, is concerned the change will damage the law’s effectiveness. According to Guyer, “Without mandated inspections, a pet dealer will be able to obtain a license, and then point to that license to satisfy consumers that he is complying with the law—whether or not he is. The licensing law without mandated inspections is a law with no meaningful tool to enforce it.” Guyer also stated that “the law is there to be used” and enforcement of the law depends on complaints made to the Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals also spoke up, asking Rensselaer County District Attorney Patricia DeAngelis to “vigorously prosecute” the couple and require psychological evaluation and mandatory counseling. PETA “cruelty caseworker” Daniel Paden stated in his letter to DeAngelis, “It’s a well-known fact that those who turn their eyes away from an animal’s suffering won’t hesitate to ignore the needs of their human dependents as well. . . . Many child protection and humane agents work together to prevent such horrors as that reportedly discovered in Troy.” Judge Mary Sweeney, from Colonie, did order a mental evaluation for the couple, as requested by the prosecution.

Many animal protection agencies are hoping that this incident will send a sign to the governor that inspection standards need to remain intact, not be lessened. Pamela Frank, of animal shelter and rescue organization FirePaw, said that this is “exactly the situation for animal activists to inform people to adopt, don’t shop.” That is something Dan Paden of PETA agrees with strongly. Paden said shelters are the way to go for any consumer concerned about breeding conditions. “There’s a bad overpopulation crisis . . . [and] no need to be bringing more animals in.”

Patalino and Rivas are currently still in court awaiting sentencing and a decision about custody of their children. The animals that were surrendered by the couple are awaiting approval for adoption from the court system.

—Amelia Koethen

We can’t go on this way: Community Accountability Board members (l-r) Charles LeCourt, William Payne, Barbara Smith, Victor Collier. Photo by: Chris Shields

You Can’t Fire Us, We Quit
Arbor Hill Community Accountability Board resigns en masse, claiming lack of systemic support

The seven members of the 12-member Arbor Hill/West Hill Community Accountability Board who gathered on Tuesday to formally announce the resignation of the entire board were somber. “It’s not something I want to stop,” said Victor Collier, associate minister at Mt. Olive Baptist Church.

The board met with low-level quality-of-life offenders, challenged them to understand how their actions had affected the community, and created written agreements that usually included components of reparations to the community through service and steps to address problems in their own lives. Terry O’Neill, a local attorney, recounted the board’s achievements, including 80 offenders diverted from the traditional criminal justice system, 8,000 hours of community service rendered, and 75 percent of offenders not re-offending.

Despite their commitment to the model, however, the board members decided collectively last week that they needed to resign in response to what they saw as a lack of true support for the board’s mission from district attorney Paul Clyne. The precipitating event was the firing of community prosecutor David Soares, who administered the program and had recruited most of the members. Soares was fired June 3, after he told his boss, Clyne, that he was running against him in the Democratic primary.

Community members also pointed to the firing of police Cmdr. Christian D’Alessandro, who had also worked with Soares to support the work of the board. Board member Charles LeCourt likened the abrupt dismissal of these two men to “a slap in the face,” especially with no time for a transition. “We were left out in the cold,” he said.

Collier, like others, said he expected the board would have been next, though possibly after the election, so Clyne could use apparent support for the program for political gain. He said the board didn’t want to be used as political pawns. “We have no guarantees that after the election this program would continue,” he said. “We don’t want to continue on as if we’re in agreement with the nonsense that’s going on.”

“Nothing’s changed as far as I’m concerned,” responded Clyne, “I mean, they’re volunteers.” He insisted that he is committed to seeing the community prosecution initiative continue, which is why he appointed assistant district attorney Francisco Calderone to take over immediately from Soares, and why he has continued funding the position after grant funding for it ran out. “It’s a strange complaint that I didn’t support the program, when in fact I created it,” he said. (The idea and grant writing actually came from Isla Roona of Social Capital Development Corporation, but Clyne’s office was the official applicant for the Bureau of Justice grant and administrator of the program.) “I think they have more of a personal attachment to David than they do to the program. This is simply a little political statement by some people who like David Soares.”

But the board members have a very different idea of what constitutes commitment in a neighborhood where trust is a precious commodity. Several noted that Clyne himself never attended a single neighborhood meeting or accountability board meeting, or acknowledged their work in any way. “He never came to any of our celebrations and shook our hands,” said Collier. “If you haven’t put any blood into it, you haven’t given it life.”

Amanda Paeglow, who volunteered in the community prosecution office, noted that getting resources for the office was like pulling teeth, and said except for two laptop computers, they had been forced to furnish the office almost entirely with donations or equipment she and Soares bought themselves. “If David can’t figure out how to fill out a form, that’s not my problem,” replied Clyne.

On the trust front, O’Neill questioned the choice of Calderone as community prosecutor. “His reputation in the community, and I mean the minority community, is based on his involvement with the case of Dr. Moores,” he said. Darroch Moores, a wealthy surgeon, was arrested for crack cocaine possession in Arbor Hill in 2001 and then not charged in what was widely seen as preferential treatment. Calderone was the prosecutor who dropped the charge. “He’s seen as ‘the guy who sprung the crack doctor,’ ” said O’Neill. “I don’t see how that makes him an effective choice to be the representative of a program that depends on the goodwill of volunteers.”

But O’Neill’s main concern is bigger than personnel. He said that while Clyne at least claimed commitment to the limited program they had in Arbor Hill, he never showed any indication that he believed in incorporating the different approach to prosecution and justice it represented into his underlying philosophy or expanding it throughout the county. In fact, last month Clyne told Metroland that it wasn’t likely the program would be expanded because “I don’t know that the issues which are trying to be addressed necessarily translate to the whole city.”

Board members said at Tuesday’s press conference that they wanted from Clyne a written commitment to the program, and its philosophy, including indication that further grant applications were in the works. They said they hoped their action would raise the profile of alternative approaches to prosecution, and force the question of whether the usual model was working. The board members are willing to finish out the cases they are in the middle of, but not take on new ones. Some, but not all, are working on Soares’ campaign for DA, but O’Neill made it clear that the campaign did not figure in the board’s choice.

Calderone said the resignation was unfortunate. “I was looking forward to working with them,” he said. “Certainly it’s going to make my job extremely difficult. . . . Even now, at any date, time, or place, I’d be more than willing to meet with them. Even if they’re not on the board, they are members of the community.”

Soares, reached Wednesday, said “It pains me that the board arrived at that decision,” but added, “When they came together what made them special was they had a lot of wisdom, and I respected their wisdom and their judgment and I have to respect their wisdom and judgment and the decision that they’ve made.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Church Back on Its Feet
Photo by: John Whipple

As recently as last summer, St. Joseph’s church in Albany’s Arbor Hill (tower and altar pictured) couldn’t even stand on its own. It was held up by scaffolding towers installed by the city, and the road to complete restoration of this landmark looked long. But one step along that road is complete—Historic Albany Foundation has finished the repairs necessary to let the building bear its own weight. To celebrate this, the foundation held a grand reopening last Thursday (June 10) for people who had contributed to the restoration efforts. At the event, groups were allowed inside for technical tours to see the results of their support. The second phase of stabilization is being funded by a matching grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. There’s plenty left to do. The foundation has already raised $60,000 of the $300,000 match it needs to raise, and is formally launching its capital campaign this month.

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