Friday, December 16, 2005

Wholesale Violations

The Alliance has been tracking the outrageous situation of fruit and vegetable peddlers opening up grandiose "stands" directly in front of the city's supermarkets and green grocers. What we had found was that these vendors were not being monitored for compliance with the various codes enacted to restrict their use. In fact, we determined that these vendors, unlike those food sellers that are providing lunchtime fare to the city's office workers, weren't really being regulated at all.

After a great deal of digging we found that the NYC DOH was charged with the oversight of these peddlers and we were able to obtain a copy of the regulations. A cursory perusal of the regs demonstrates clearly that the vendors are overstepping their legal boundaries and thus unfairly impinging on the rights of legitimate store owners.

The most egregious violations pertain to the location of the peddlers. In the first place the rules clearly state that no "mobile food unit" can be on a street unless there is at least a "twelve foot clear pedestrian path." We have taken pictures of dozens of these so-called units and in most cases the pedestrian path is considerably less. Ironically, this poses a greater threat to pedestrian safety than the original stoop stand operators, a target of Councilman John Liu's legislation.

In addition, the food carts are not supposed to "occupy more than ten linear feet" parallel to the curb. This is the most vexing violation since we have consistently observed carts that are over 20 feet long, thus allowing the vendor to offer the public almost the entire inventory that you find in a neighborhood fruit store. These carts are truly fruit emporiums.

There is a long list of other prohibitions on location that we're not going to detail at this time. Suffice it to say that these restrictions are also being ignored with impunity. We have begun discussions with the DOH on the relevant enforcement options, but we are also talking the City Council because the current unenforced regs are not strict enough.

A food vendor should not have the right to set up shop (literally) in front of store owners selling the same goods. The city places considerable burden on shopkeepers and, coupled with the standard overhead, places them at a competitive disadvantage with vendors who have none of the same obligations. They should not be allowed on the same block!

In addition, we believe that the intrepid entrepreneur image of these peddlers is a ruse. We have strong reason to believe that they are really employees of a few wholesalers which, if true, would mean that they are probably some of the most exploited workers in the city.

Under the current regs the city has the authority to determine who is supplying the vendors ("...distributors from whom such licensees received his food supply..."). This is something that we are asking the relevant agencies to do. If our suspicions are correct we think that blatant labor law violations are occurring and the whole mess needs to be stopped.