Monday, January 26, 2009

 

Carriage drivers join Teamsters as City Council hearing looms





Carriage drivers join Teamsters as City Council hearing looms


BY LARRY McSHANE DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER


Sunday, January 25th 2009, 4:00 AM


The city's horse-drawn carriages are rolling through Central Park with a new passenger aboard: the Teamsters.


A coalition of owners, drivers and stable workers voted last week to join the international union as they gear up for this Friday's City Council committee hearing on a bill to ban the industry.


"This is not an animal rights issue for us," said Colm McKeever, owner-operator of Shamrock Stables and a 20-year industry veteran. "This is a labor issue, which makes this a very natural fit with the union."


Demos Demopoulos, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 553 in Manhattan, said the new members wanted some juice in the battle to keep their industry alive.


"What they're really looking for is to be part of an organization that has some political power and represents working people," said Demopoulos.


"They just want to have their voices heard down at City Hall."
There's a historical tie, too: Local 553 represented coal-delivering carriage drivers at the turn of the 20th century.


"They saw that kinship," the union leader said. About 40 industry workers, including the stable owners, voted last Wednesday to join the Teamsters, according to McKeever.


On Friday, a public hearing is slated on Councilman Tony Avella's bill to ban the carriages. The Coalition for New York City Animals, a pro-ban group, collected 35,000 signatures on a petition supporting the bill.


Critics say the horse-drawn carriages are arcane and inhumane, citing the 2006 death of a horse killed on Central Park South after it was spooked.


Driver Emilio Marquez disputes the mistreatment claims. And while he cares about the animals, his main concern remains his family.


"Let me tell you something: We need these jobs," said Marquez, one of many immigrants in the business. "They talk about the horses, but they don't talk about us."

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