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Upper West Side Board to Discuss Bathroom Rights — But Without the Victims!

Community Board 7 members still in their boxes.

No delivery workers allowed!

An Upper West Side community board will finally take up the apparently controversial issue of whether delivery workers should be allowed to use restaurant bathrooms — but the committee hasn't invited the workers themselves to testify at next week's hearing.

Community Board 7's Business and Consumer Issues Committee has only invited restaurateurs and delivery app companies to testify at Wednesday's hearing — which comes after the same board's transportation committee tabled a resolution offering basic human excretory privileges to delivery workers after a meltdown by some board members that was first reported by Streetsblog, but eventually covered in the national press.

The decision to not invited delivery workers — to a discussion of bathroom privileges for delivery workers — was made by BCI Committee Co-Chairs Christian Cordova and Linda Alexander. Alexander had been particularly offended by the earlier resolution to encourage restaurants to allow delivery workers for third-party companies like DoorDash and Grubhub to use the bathroom.

"We have invited the delivery companies ... so it should be a good discussion," Cordova said at this week's full-board meeting as he announced the agenda for Wednesday's BCI Committee meeting.

CB7 member Ken Coughlin, whose earlier resolution seeking basic rights for some of the lowest-paid workers in the city had been shot down, was surprised: "You're not going to be inviting advocates for the delivery workers [to the hearing]?" he asked.

That's when Alexander chimed in.

"Actually, NO!" she said vehemently. "This is going to be a discussion with [third-party] providers. And restaurants have been invited. ... By the way, I've spoken to delivery workers and six restaurant owners all of whom say they don't have a problem on the Upper West Side."

Setting aside the question of whether restaurateurs are capable of objectivity on the issue, many delivery workers have complained that some restaurants in the city do not allow them to use the bathroom, which formed provided the impetus for Coughlin's earlier resolution. Streetsblog recently published a first-person account of a delivery worker who was denied relief, and other workers have testified to the same treatment.

Alexander promised that delivery workers would be allowed to testify at a subsequent BCI Committee meeting — arguing that having the victims joining the same meeting as their urinary oppressors would be too heated.

"We're going to separate [the meetings]," she said. "Rather than having a chaotic meeting, we are going to have a meeting where we can find solutions together."

One member of the board, who requested anonymity, said the "two-meeting" plan is foolish.

"So we're going to have two separate discussions? That sounds like a formula for coming up with a solution that doesn't work for either side," the board member said. "Why don't we just pass Ken's resolution, which simply encouraged restaurants to let delivery workers use the bathroom?"

Several board members have told Streetsblog that they are hoping to recruit many delivery workers to attend the virtual meeting on May 12.

Alexander may be right that the meeting would be "chaotic" — but she might also have been referring to members of her own community board, given their reaction to Coughlin's initial resolution last month.

As Streetsblog reported, after Coughlin introduced his common-sense (and non-binding) resolution, one board member called it “awful” and "embarrassing," another called it “crazy,” and a third (Alexander) dubbed it “punitive” to restaurants.

“I was horrified when I read this resolution. … It’s horrifying on all levels,” added Barbara Adler, who is best known to Streetsblog readers for her prior support for more enforcement by the NYPD in Central Park days after the George Floyd killing. “This resolution is embarrassing to CB7. This is not something we want out there. Just awful. … You can’t force a restaurateur to let someone use the bathroom if they’re opposed to it. The whole thing is asinine.”

Fortunately, this tempest in a chamberpot may be moot. Last month, Council Member Carlina Rivera introduced a bill that would require restaurants to allow delivery workers to use the bathroom, a basic form of human decency that, apparently, remains a subject of debate on the supposedly liberal Upper West Side.

Do Lee of the Biking Public Project said his delivery-worker advocacy group would likely focus its attention on the citywide bill, but told Streetsblog, "It's definitely frustrating to hear the conversation happening  on the Upper West Side on a basic issue like bathroom access for workers."

To watch next Wednesday's 6 p.m. community board committee meeting, click here.

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