Testimony before NYC City Council on the Street Vendor Bill

Good afternoon honorable members of the City Council. My name is Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan and I am Associate Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a national civil rights organization engaged in advocacy and impact litigation on behalf of underserved Latino communities along the east coast. Thank you for the invitation to address you today on the important issue of economic justice for working class street vendors, many of whom are Latino and almost all are immigrants.

As you know, immigrants are a vital part of New York City’s economy, often serving as the economic engine in their communities through small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures. Part of the creativity and vibrancy immigrant-owned businesses bring is the culinary traditions that expand both the available options in their communities for ethnically relevant food choices as well as diversifying the choices available. These businesses include street vendors, who carry their traditions with them from corner to corner of this city, contributing to the culturally diverse and economically vibrant communities they are a part of.

However many of these workers have been laboring under exploitative conditions, paying upwards of thousands of dollars for a permit issued years and years ago because no more have been or will be issued without the necessary changes to regulations. Street vending is often an entry point into the city’s economy; a chance for immigrants, many of whom are Latinos/as, to provide for their families, pay their rent, and develop business skills. Their presence is often overlooked yet their contributions are significant, particularly within their communities.

Yet laboring as part of an invisible economy that is ripe with exploitation and abuse, often indebting vendors and their families as they sell food and products in our streets daily, is unacceptable and cannot be condoned, even implicitly by refusing to act on a simple measure that could create more economic opportunity for low-wage workers while addressing the exploitation that street vending is currently infected with. We know that it is always the most vulnerable among us who are most susceptible to exploitative labor practices, and street vending is not exempt. It is incumbent upon government to identify, address and eradicate such abuse when its surfaced, which is what this body has a chance to do today.

Thank you for your time.

Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan,
Associate Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF

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