Street vendors call on Queens lawmakers to help halt aggressive fines for unlicensed workers

street vendors
The Street Vendors Project rallied a large group of people to call on lawmakers to stop targeting unlicensed vendors. (Photo by Julia Moro)
Julia Moro

A large crowd of mostly Spanish-speaking street vendors, gathered in Corona Plaza on Wednesday, June 16, to call upon lawmakers to stop heavily enforced fines from being issued to street vendors struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ausencia Crus, a vendor in Corona Plaza. (Photo by Julia Moro)

As of June 1, agencies started giving out $1,000 fines to unpermitted mobile food vendors as part of New York City’s reopening. Unlicensed merchandise vendors face a fine of $250.

Vendors must have a license to sell any merchandise or food. If caught without a license, police would potentially confiscate their goods. However, licenses are nearly impossible to obtain due to the legislative cap of only 853 licenses. The waiting list is in the thousands, and the chances of getting a license are slim.

The Street Vendors Project (SVP), a member-based organization that protects vendors, organized the rally to call on lawmakers to not only relieve the heavy fines but to remove the cap on licenses. 

“How is this city so cruel as to issue a $1,000 ticket to a mother selling tamales to take care of her family, after barely surviving the pandemic, simply for a lack of business licensing which she has no way to access due to the cap on permits and licenses,” said Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, SVP’s deputy director.  

Some state and local politicians attended the rally to show their support for the street vendors and Bill S1175A, which looks to legalize and decriminalize sidewalk vending across the state. 

State Senator Jessica Ramos, who sponsored the bill, said she wants to protect the people who have been working and sacrificing themselves to provide for their communities and their families.

“Street vending is as old as New York City and what we’re asking for is to stop criminalizing street vending,” Ramos said. “Everyone who wants to do honest work should be able to do so without fear.”

Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas said she would work with Ramos to get the bill passed in the Assembly. Currently, the bill is in the Senate Cities Committee.

“Everyone who surrounds this plaza kept this city running when we were all dying, they put their own lives at risk to serve the city,” González-Rojas said. “I thank you for your courage to speak truth to power in a city that continues to disrespect you; this is not okay.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said that as New York City reopens we shouldn’t forget who kept the city running during the pandemic.

“These were the essential workers,” Richards said. “There are those who had the luxury of staying home and working on a computer. These folks were the ones that ran into the burning building. They are the reason this city is reopening today, may we not forget.”

Instead of penalizing hardworking street vendors, Richards said the city should be ensuring they get credit lines and grants.

During the June 16 rally, Corona Plaza street vendors shared their stories with the crowd of supporters.

“We are part of the culture, and we’re not going back into the shadows. We are not shadows. We never were,” said Alex Guillen, a Corona Plaza street vendor. “We are people with rights and we will continue to fight for all politicians to listen to us and hear our needs.”

Isabel Hernandez, a member of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, said she was pregnant when she lost her job during the pandemic and now sells makeup products as a street vendor.

“I needed to make money to feed my family and pay my bills,” said Hernandez. “Street vendors work hard but are in constant fear of getting tickets and getting our things thrown out. This harassment has to stop. We work with dignity.”