Parking lot operators are furious about the city’s proposal to raise the parking tax even as they’ve watched their business wither during the coronavirus.
In response, Philadelphia City Council is offering this deal: Develop “good jobs” and we’ll bring the rate back down.
It aims to be the rare plan that appeals to both labor and employers.
Robert Zuritsky, president of the Philadelphia Parking Association and CEO of parking operator Parkway Corp., said the prospect of tax relief was a spot of hope in an increasingly dire landscape for the industry.
Gabe Morgan, vice president of SEIU 32BJ, the service sector union that’s organizing Philadelphia parking workers, said the plan was just one step in the campaign to lift about 1,000 workers out of poverty.
The plan, led by Councilmember Cherelle L. Parker, is the latest in a trend of Philadelphia public policies designed at improving jobs for low-wage nonunion workers — though the business community has generally opposed such measures, saying they make it harder to do business in the city.
The Parker plan involves creating a “Good Parking Jobs for Philadelphia Review Committee” composed of workers, industry, and Council that would assess the industry’s progress on developing good jobs. Exactly what that means is up to the committee, but parking workers, who are predominantly African American or immigrants from Africa, have said they’re forced to endure arbitrary firings, low wages, and unaffordable health care.
This isn’t the first time Council has taken up the parking workers’ cause: Council passed another Parker-sponsored, 32BJ-backed measure last year that gave these workers “just cause” protection, making it illegal to fire them without proving it was warranted. One “just cause” complaint has been filed so far, said Candace Chewning, spokesperson for the city’s Office of Labor. Council also passed a law mandating minimum staffing levels at parking companies.
During the hearings for that bill, Parker, who has received campaign contributions from both the union and the parking industry, said she would not “abandon the industry.” This, she says, is making good on that promise.
Zuritsky and E-Z Park Inc. owner Harvey Spear said that they treated their employees fairly, and that their long-tenured workers are proof of that. But Spear said he was concerned about other parking employers.
“We have no control over other people,” he said, adding that the notion of an industry review was unsettling.
“Would you be happy,” he asked, “if you had a committee looking at if you’re a good girl or not?”
Council is poised to approve a coronavirus-era city budget that would raise the parking tax from 22.5% to 25% — the rate in San Francisco. That’s down from Mayor Jim Kenney’s initial 27% proposal.
Morgan, of 32BJ, said his union supports lowering the parking tax rate long-term, framing the good jobs review committee plan as “an effort to rebuild the industry” amid a deep recession.
The plan, outlined in an amendment to the parking tax increase, still has to be approved by Council. It’s unclear when it will hold hearings on the forthcoming bill, but the idea is to lower the tax rate to 17% by July 2022.
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of 21 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.