The Restoration of NYC Principal Parking Perks Reveals the Warped Priorities of Placard Culture

In a pair of Bloomberg-era decisions, an arbitrator and a judge agreed that school administrators were entitled to free parking on the job, and said taking transit to work was a hardship for DOE employees.

A vehicle bearing a Bronx-assigned DOE placard parked in a loading zone on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. Photo: @jooltman
A vehicle bearing a Bronx-assigned DOE placard parked in a loading zone on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. Photo: @jooltman

Siding with New York City school administrators who sued to retain their parking perks, an arbitrator and a judge agreed that free parking was a right enshrined in the principals’ union contract, and ruled that taking transit to work was unfair to Department of Education employees.

The 2009 and 2010 rulings, which City Hall sent in response to Streetsblog’s request for information on the de Blasio administration’s decision to issue tens of thousands of additional parking placards this year, speak to the biases of legal authorities who’ve made placard perks difficult to dislodge.

A little background: In 2008, Mayor Michael Bloomberg cut the number of DOE parking placards from 63,000 to around 11,000, aligning the number of permits with the number of on-street parking spots allocated to schools. The reforms were enacted to reduce traffic and illegal parking around school buildings. Under the old first-come, first-served system, permit holders who drove to work but couldn’t find a reserved school spot were free to park virtually anywhere without fear of being ticketed.

After some resistance, the United Federation of Teachers acknowledged the old system was broken and agreed to the reduction in placards. But the union that represents principals and other administrative staff, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, sued the city to get placards for its members reinstated. The Bloomberg administration proceeded to defend its placard policy in court.

The stalemate continued until this spring, when, as a result of “arbitration and negotiations,” the de Blasio administration agreed to reissue placards to CSA members as well as every other DOE employee who has a car and wants a permit.

City Hall would not explain whether its hand was forced or the placards were reissued voluntarily, so Streetsblog filed a FOIL request for records related to this decision. We’re still waiting, but the city has sent older documents from the CSA case.

A 2009 finding by arbitrator Ralph Berger [PDF] held that the placard reductions were in violation of the CSA’s collective bargaining agreement with DOE. The union claimed parking privileges were subject to contract negotiations, since “the availability of free parking for employees while at work is an economic benefit.”

Berger concurred, but his decision did not grapple with the monetary value of parking placards and how that could be replaced by other means, like a mode-neutral commuting benefit. (Union members who ride transit to work get tax-free MetroCards, a benefit worth far less than free guaranteed parking.)

Instead, Berger viewed parking placards as an irreplaceable benefit, and wrote that revoking them “constituted a significant and adverse alteration of … working conditions.”

Berger cited the case of Joseph Clausi, an assistant principal who testified that “when he had a parking permit, he arrived to work by 7 a.m. for a 7:25 a.m. start,” but that “without a parking permit, he has to arrive by 6:00 a.m. to find parking.”

To be sure, Berger based his ruling on several factors, but one of them was the belief that not having unfettered access to free parking was prima facie evidence of hardship. “The very fact that City parking spaces are so limited and sought after,” he wrote, “made it especially beneficial to have the opportunity to park in a free Department-designated spot.”

Here’s Berger referring to testimony from a CSA member who stopped driving to work:

Department Placement Officer Braulio Navarro testified that he has worked for the Department for nine years and that every year he has received a parking permit. The permit allowed him to park in on-street parking spaces designated for Department employees. Since the Department took away his permit, he now uses public transportation to commute to work. Navarro testified that it used to take him 40-45 minutes to drive to work, but “now it takes me about two and half hours, two hours” each way … He also stated that he had used the permit to park when he had meetings away from his office. Navarro now uses public transportation, or walks to get to these meetings. The walk can take him 45 minutes to an hour.

Without carte blanche parking privileges, in other words, Navarro joined the millions of New Yorkers who take transit to their jobs.

When the Bloomberg administration challenged Berger’s decision, CSA filed suit. In 2010, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Joan A. Madden agreed with the arbitration award [PDF], rejecting the city’s counterclaim that Berger overstepped his authority and that the award violated a public policy.

Madden’s ruling also betrays a windshield bias. The judge cited precedent from a dispute between New York City Transit and TWU Local 100, which held that arbitrators violated public policy when they found fault with the authority’s policy of firing workers who violated safety rules.

“Here, the issue is not safety,” Madden wrote, “but the delegation of parking permits.”

But there is a compelling public interest in limiting parking placards, which increase traffic and congestion and are routinely abused in ways that do jeopardize people’s safety.

After the de Blasio administration increased the number of placards in circulation this year, tens of thousands of DOE employees are again competing for roughly 11,000 on-street spaces. Crosswalks, bus stops, no-standing zones, and other areas where parking is prohibited are again fair game for DOE staffers who can’t find a legal spot.

City Hall still owes New Yorkers a full explanation of why it allowed parking placards to proliferate again.

  • ohnonononono

    Do NYC teachers get free Metrocards? Why does DOE make the choice to give them the economic benefit of free parking but not free transit?

  • Reader

    It’s bad enough that they hand these things out like candy. It’s even worse that there’s no enforcement.

    At the very least, people who abuse their placards should have them taken away immediately. That would be one way to force compliance. Use it as intended or lose it. One strike and you’re out.

  • Joe R.

    All I’m seeing here are dipshit excuses to continue to give out a benefit which is detrimental to the vast majority of NYers. The assistant principal who claims he needs to arrive an hour early to find parking should perhaps consider whether or not alternate modes might take less than an extra hour. The “plight” of the Department Placement Officer makes even less sense. The supposed extra time taking public transit (which was almost certainly exaggerated to gain sympathy) is more a cry for improving public transit than for giving out parking placards. That’s really the root of the problem. If more people used public transit, there would be more money and political support to improve it so it would be more time-competitive with driving. Giving people special privileges so they can opt out of using the system is only going to make things worse. All these people with placards who drive are slowing down people in buses.

    This isn’t even getting into the fact educators are supposed to set a good example for their students. What kind of example does it set when a teacher who might have a lesson on global warming drives to work?

    The bottom line here is NYC has no obligation to make commutes easier for a select few. No other employers make such considerations. If these people would really have such long, arduous commutes without parking placards then the answer is to move closer to work, or work closer to home, or just suck it up like the vast majority do.

  • JarekFA

    from the article: Berger concurred, but his decision did not grapple with the monetary value of parking placards and how that could be replaced by other means, like a mode-neutral commuting benefit. (Union members who ride transit to work get tax-free MetroCards, a benefit worth far less than free guaranteed parking.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The very fact that City parking spaces are so limited and sought after,” he wrote, “made it especially beneficial to have the opportunity to park in a free Department-designated spot.”

    Just like early retirement at age 55 after just 25 years of work, etc. etc., most of the “pay” of public employees is hidden, and their starting cash pay is kept as low as possible.

    This is an example of just how rich they are. And getting richer, relative to the serfs, all the time.

    The fact that so much money was shifted to the city pension funds as a result of all the pension deals, and away from infrastructure maintenance for the serfs on the subway, just makes it worse.

    We need a union of everyone else other than the 1 percent and unionized public employees. One equally incapable of enlightened self interest, because the ship is going down anyway.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The ones that matter don’t live in New York City. They live in places with a lower total tax burden and better schools. So yes, it would be hard for them to get to work without a car.

    The ones that matter more are retired in Florida.

  • Carl S

    That is a rather biased comment. I am a city worker and I don’t have a parking placard. I can’t retire at 55 or after 25 years of work. The salary I receive is much lower than the salary of a similar job in the private sector and the pension I will get is a tradeoff that gives more security in exchange for the lower salary. I would have to live to be over 90 for the pension to make up for the difference in the salary I could have received in the private sector.

  • walks bikes drives

    As a NYC teacher, I make a fraction of what my counterparts in the suburbs do. This is part of the reason teaching slots are so hard to fill. With overtime, which I am not entitled to, but put in anyway in order to effectively do my job, sanitation workers make more than I do. An equivalent private sector position, based on my years of experience as well as advanced degree, would pay well above what I make, as Carl mentions. You don’t get into public service because of the alure of the paycheck. Working in public service or public interest is a way to find value in your job, not a way to get a large paycheck. Part of the tradeoff to that is the greater benefits which, as such large employers, are able to be furnished more cheaply than their private counterparts. For public service, they are the perks many talk about. For public interest, that is usually more in the form of vacation packages, where they might start at 3 weeks vs the private equivalent starting at 1 week annually. As for retiring at 55, I can’t do that because I didn’t buy into it. I have to wait until I am 62 because to retire at 55, I would have had to put a significantly larger sum into my pension. The 55/25 plan was introduced as a cost saving measure during the recession because, with coffers so hard hit, a veteran teacher can cost twice as much as a brand new one, so it made financial sense to offer early retirement. But teachers had to pay a hefty price to get into it to offset the contractual retirement system.

    Don’t bash the unions. Unions have done so much for the workers of this country. It is so hard to see people who seem so liberal to have such views that tend to match more with Mr. Cruz.

  • Joe R.

    Maybe a better answer instead of parking placards is for the DOE to have several designated pickup spots outside city limits with plenty of parking. The teachers drive there, park, and a bus brings them to whatever school they work in. I’d rather have a few hundred buses coming into the city instead of tens of thousands of cars.

  • William Lawson

    So take public transport to work like everyone else. Jesus the entitlement of people like this is off the frigging scale.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “This is part of the reason teaching slots are so hard to fill.”

    Starting cash pay — kept a slow as possible. Total compensation in FY 2015 for instructional workers — $297,000 per 20 students.

    The way compensation is being structured is both expensive, and doesn’t seem to make people happy. There there is the “screw the newbie, flee to Florida aspect.” Those who were 55 when the deal was cut could retire immediately without putting in an extra dime.

    Placards are a part of that.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I don’t know what Tier you are in Carl, but if you were the beneficiary of all those retroactive pension increases then you are almost assuredly earning more than you were in the private sector in total compensation, unless you are a top executive. The chart includes benefits. And for private workers, it includes the one-percenters outside finance in Manhattan.

    If you are a recent hire in a lower tier you were screwed, again, for now. But there is no way to know what your pension will turn out to be, only that it will be no less than what you were promised.

    The state legislature could have voted last night, with no debate, to give you $1 million per year effective immediately and everyone else would have no choice but to pay, even if it mean shutting down the subway, the schools, everything else.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Back before I had a better idea that NY’s public employee unions are not like the social justice pursuing unions of yore, I had thought that they could form the backbone of a dynamic carpool club. Starting with themselves, and then expanding to others. Back in the mid-1990s.

    It could have also allowed the workers to cover most of the cost of their car by providing rides to others during trips they were making anyway. Something they could continue to do when they were retired.

    Part of the suggestion was that placards would only be issued to participants — those willing to bring 2 or 3 other public servants who match their time of travel and approximate areas of origin and destination with them.

    Pretty damn naïve, huh?

    Perhaps the public sector could be part of the solution in a more progressive place — Austin, Raleigh-Durham, even metro Boston. ANYHERE BUT HERE.

  • Larry Littlefield

    That might work from a transportation policy perspective. But from a public labor prospective, the city needs to reserve spaces for placard parking equal to the number of placards issued, taking them away from other residents.

    Because the next arbitration or legal decision, probably already planned for or agreed to behind closed doors, is the “right” to be able to use the placards they have the right to. With pensionable back pay for however long additional spaces aren’t made available at $300 per month or something.

    Better to face reality now than face a $1 billion dollar bill later, given that “money is fungible.”

  • Urbanely

    I know of younger employees who joined the City in professional titles and couldn’t afford to join the pension because they were paying off student loans. They made too much for loan forgiveness. Now, to buy back pension time there is cost plus 5-6% per year for each buyback year. Nobody was earning 5-6% interest over the last few years. Most of the folks under 40 that I know who work for he City (myself included) are not planning to stay.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Were it up to me they’re be an 8 percent 401K –equivalent contribution by the city for the first ten years. At that point, if you haven’t left, the money would be shifted to the pension plan. That 8 percent is what a 30/62 plan would actually cost the city with honest assumptions if they were paying all along. They probably aren’t putting in a dime for the new hires.

    In 1995, when they retroactively allowed DC37 members to retire at 57 instead of 62, those members were required to retroactively buyback those retirement rights at 1.85% per year. The pension increase was worth far more than that, but the buyback was enough that relatively few people took advantage. One reason why NYCERS is not as deep in the hole as NYCTRS and the police and fire pension plans.

    In 2008, when the 25/55 pension deal went though for teachers, there was NO buyback requirement for past years. Just an extra 1.85% going forward. Those 55 at the time could walk out without paying an extra dime, while others only had to pay for a few years before leaving. Within two years NYCTRS was one of the most underfunded public employee pension funds in the U.S. Due to a deal that allegedly “saved money.”

  • Larry Littlefield

    The union excuse for screw the newbie/flee to Florida deals? It’s not just us!

  • Brian Howald

    I don’t understand the legal reasoning here.

    If there are ~11K DOE parking spots, how does issuing an additional ~50K placards allow DOE employees who drive to use these spots. They’ll still have to compete for the scarce spots. The value of a placard is limited by the low supply (relative to number of placards) of DOE parking. The employees arguing about having to arrive early to look for a spot will still have to do just that if there are suddenly six times as many people competing for those spots.

    That placards only work (or rather, fail to work at all) because they confer the de facto right to park in non-parking locations, and that it is from this that they derive most of their value, should have been stated by the arbitrator.

  • Vooch

    comply with IRS rules and withhold taxes from the benefit

    that‘ll change behavior PDQ

  • Vooch


    you retire with multi million pensions, double dip later, it’s a crime

  • Vooch

    unions reduced wage growth from the git go.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Not sure about that in the private sector. But in the public sector, yes, the trend has been more perks for those cashing in and moving out and cuts in starting pay and benefits for new hires.

    In union elections, retired teachers outvote those working.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Again, there is step one and step two. No arbitrator was going to rule that the city had to take parking spaces away from other residents and give them to employees. But now that the right to park is enshrined as part of their contract, step two is a lawsuit demanding that reserved spaces equal the number of placards.

    The politicians are playing checkers and looking to the next election. The unions are playing chess.

    It’s like per sessions per teachers. Shouldn’t they be paid extra if they help out with extra-curriculars? Sure, sounds fair. But then 20 years later, after a lawsuit and arbitration, those payments are used to retroactively spike pension payments at a cost of $billions — something never disclosed — or funded — at the time the per-sessions were agreed to. If they had been, and the cost hit immediately so people could see it and feel it at the time, they never would have been agreed to.

  • Vooch

    true – your details are true

  • Joe R.

    They’ll just do what they did in the past where there were more placards than spots—park in crosswalks, bus stops, on sidewalks, in driveways. Before 2006 teachers had parked in our driveway a few times. My late father called the police each time it happened. When the cop saw the parking placard, he told my father there’s nothing they can do. After that he just started keeping his car right at the front of the driveway, even though he preferred to park it behind the gate.

  • JarekFA

    If there are 60K placards then yes, there should be 60K spots. Also makes me kinda ill knowing that we’re purposefully funneling so many cars to schools when I will be taking my kid to school on bike soon.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Based on what I’ve read and the data I’ve compiled. Read the posts. If Tier VI teachers only knew.

  • Larry Littlefield

    They’ve got to do it to avoid a big retroactive bill. And they could say that only allowing the placards to be used at their place of work — rather than allowing them to park their car in reserved parking near their home as in the past — is also a cut in their pay.

    When it happens, we may not even know it. They don’t exactly issue press releases for this stuff.

  • Vooch

    I was heavily involved with a private sector industrial union for 30 years on the management side. The union leaders talk a big game, but will always sell out their young membership enrich themselves and their cronies.

    It got so bad sometimes, that I found myself advocating for the younger union members.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The whole Generation Greed era. Morally, if you took too much, everyone should give back. But it isn’t just unions, it’s the whole society.

  • Joe R.

    A big part of the problem is the penchant of public labor unions to use overtime when calculating pensions. That screws up any carefully laid plans to fund pensions. Pensions should be calculated on base pay, period. When you also add in overtime, it’s like you’re getting paid 20x or 30x instead of 1.5x for overtime. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

    And while on this, even if we calculate pensions on base pay, we should probably also have a cap so high earners don’t walk away with $80K pensions. The point of a pension is to keep you from living off dog food. Maybe cap them at $30K to $40K. If people want to have an extravagant retirement let them save some of the earnings.

  • Joe R.

    Worth noting though is you always have the option of retiring early if you put aside some money to carry you over until you receive a pension. You’re only forced to work until 62 if you spend every dime, which frankly any financial planner will tell is poor financial management.

    A second thing worth noting is teachers have one perk which many other employees would die for, namely the entire summer off. I’ll grant being a good teacher is a difficult, stressful job but the summer break (and other breaks/holidays) amount to the equivalent of maybe 15 weeks off. And you get weekends off. When I worked, I never had any paid vacation on any of my jobs. At one point I worked over 3 years without a single day off except an occasional Sunday (yes, I usually had to work Saturdays). I think they gave us Christmas off but I can’t remember at this point. All I know is by the time I was laid off I was pretty burnt out.

    Unions did lots of good, but it was mostly in the past. After reading a lot of the stuff Larry writes, nowadays they’re no better than organized crime rackets stealing from the taxpayers with things like retroactive pension increases. They even screwed you over. You’re probably getting a total compensation package less than you deserve so those who worked in the past can get a lot more than they deserve.

  • Joe R.

    Another thing which bears mention is that it’s typically very physical jobs where you wear your body out which might justify retirement at 55. An example might be a track worker, perhaps also a sanitation worker. I don’t begrudge these people a retirement at 55. By then their bodies are probably so worn out they’ll be stuck with a lifetime of joint issues.

    Non-physical jobs don’t merit retirement until at least 65, probably 70 based on current life spans. As I’ve said many times, nothing prevents people from retiring before then if they save to self-fund their early retirement. I’m actually a big fan of retiring long before you’re worn out, but not on the backs of taxpayers.

  • Vooch

    transfer the worn out 55 year olds to clerical positions until they are 70.

  • Larry Littlefield

    There isn’t much to be done about any of this, aside from a constitutional convention with most of its members under age 50.

    But getting back on topic, there isn’t much to be done about the placard explosion. Just have to accept more space being set aside for placard holders, or else.

  • walks bikes drives

    Yes, the vacation time definitely is a perk. Counting holidays, it is about 13 weeks. Most school districts, though, do no actually pay for the summer break. Paychecks come for 10 months out of the year then stop for 2 months. Because of the hardship of budgeting with that kind of set-up, many district switched to spreading the checks over the full 12 months. Some districts allow you to choose 26 equal installments or 22 equal installments with a summer break.

    But yeah, as a teacher, you would burn out way too fast without those recharge times. Part of the reason that the best teachers rarely teach summer school. It’s not worth the extra pay.

    Yes, I could retire early if I have 30 years and savings to hold me over to 62 and don’t start drawing my pension until 62. But in the end, since pensions are based on final three years salary, the benefit would be lower to retire from DOE at, say, 55 and then waiting 7 years to start collecting. Better to stay in the classroom, where pay will increase with annual raises and students will benefit from the veteran teacher.

  • Joe R.

    For what it’s worth, a good student who works hard all year also needs those summer recharge times. I recall many nights of a few hours sleep back when I was in Bronx Science. That’s why a lot of the better students never have summer jobs. They really need that summer break to prevent long-term burn out.

    I understand where you’re coming from given how pensions are calculated. Besides, if a person enjoys their job, there’s not a compelling reason to retire. We also need more veteran teachers. My understanding is with the early retirements from years past there’s a shortage of veterans.

    I’ll be 55 in November. I’m probably going to semi-retire once this consulting gig ends (could be this year but probably no later than next year). Since I’m taking care of my mother I can’t really look for work anyway, and I’ll need to work at home. Semi-retire just means I’ll take suitable work if it comes my way via word-of-mouth, but I won’t be actively looking for work.

  • CtotheC

    What I would have done is to get four of these hydraulic wheel dollies and moved that vehicle out of my driveway… and into the public street. A little pricy but at least it will make cops do something about the vehicle when it’s blocking traffic.

  • Driver

    “When I worked, I never had any paid vacation on any of my jobs.
    At one point I worked over 3 years without a single day off except an
    occasional Sunday (yes, I usually had to work Saturdays). I think they
    gave us Christmas off but I can’t remember at this point. All I know is
    by the time I was laid off I was pretty burnt out.”

    “Unions did lots of good, but it was mostly in the past.”

    Talk about a disconnect.

  • Joe R.

    For what it’s worth, that was a union job. I didn’t get a decent raise, either, except for the cheap quarter raise in the contract, until I threatened to quit. All the union did was deduct dues from my already meager paycheck.

  • Andrew

    That’s not a specific benefit for union members – since the beginning of 2016, “for-profit and nonprofit employers with 20 or more full-time non-union employees in New York City must offer their full-time employees the opportunity to use pre-tax income to purchase qualified transportation fringe benefits.”

    In other words, motorists get a big perk but transit riders get nothing beyond what the law grants them already.


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