Give us a break!

24 Feb 2010

Hey, vendor! What's it like to stand in the snow all day? Do you get cold? Do your feet get tired? Where do you go to the bathroom?

Clearly the NYC Department of Health never thought about vendors when they passed their ridiculous new rule, effective January 1, making it illegal for food vendors to leave their pushcarts unattended. Even for a minute. What about when you have to go to the bathroom?

Some vendors have comrades nearby to watch their carts, but some don't. Last week, SVP member Mohammed Shirajul Islam became the first victim of this thoughtlessness when he left his cart to use the bathroom at a nearby bookstore, and, coming back after 20 minutes, discovered that the Health Department had scratched off his vending permit.

Harsh? Yes. When the Health Department scratches off your permit, it takes at least a month to get it back. First they schedule a hearing in ten business days, and then you have to wait for the judge's decision, and then you have to wait for DOH to schedule you an inspection in Queens, which takes at least two more weeks. Translation: go to the bathroom, and you may be out of work for a month.

Its especially sad that this rule came from the Department of Health, because it could lead to big health problems for vendors, if they are (rightly) afraid to leave their carts. Failure to go the bathroom for extended periods can lead to urinary tract infections and a whole host of other medical problems.

Understanding that this is the type of issue that everyone can sympathize with, we notified the press and went with a bunch of SVP members to the DOH yesterday to demand Shiraj's permit back. After the NY Post ran it on their cover, the whole media world showed up in the rain, to hear Shiraj speak. Cityroom was there, and WNYC, and here's the New York One. And here's some pictures we took.

By the end of the day, the DOH had called Shiraj in to get his permit back. And apparently they are considering changing their regulations to recognize that, as per human biology, vendors have to leave their carts temporarily throughout the day. At least they'll think twice next time before getting out their razor blades (which is actually how they do it!)

Maybe the inspectors will even wait for the vendor to come back! After all, unlike some city workers we know, vendors don't make money if they are not at their carts working. Meaning that vendors don't spend any more time away than they absolutely have to.

All in a day's work at SVP -- giving a voice to people like Shiraj, who nobody (especially the thugs at the Department of Health) ever listens to. But bathroom breaks are way down the list of the biggest problems vendors face (licenses, tickets, harassment). Let's hope successful events like this get the City to start thinking about the other issues vendors face every day.

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