The Downtown Alliance, a nonprofit organization that strives to improve quality of life in Lower Manhattan, is boosting the pay for its uniformed security officers (and other employees) to a minimum of $15 per hour. This comes at a moment when another Lower Manhattan institution, the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) has effectively slashed compensation for its security personnel, by dismissing dozens of Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers, who had safeguarded the community for decades and earned a minimum of $17.41 per hour. In a controversial move, the BPCA replaced these officers with guards from private security contractor AlliedBarton, who are paid $12.50 per hour.
This development comes against the backdrop of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s push for a mandatory minimum wage of $15 for every employee, public or private, in the State of New York. Why the BPCA, a State agency that the Governor directly controls, and which has revenue in excess of $200 million per year, is unable to comply with this policy, while a small non-profit organization with a cash flow of less than one-tenth that of the Authority can do so, was not immediately clear.
It may be worth noting that the Alliance was under no obligation to jump pay for its uniformed employees until (and unless) the Governor’s proposal is enacted into law. Nor would Governor Cuomo have any power to order the Alliance to do so, as he could with the BPCA.
The Alliance’s new policy will affect not only its uniformed public safety officers, but also staff in its sanitation and tourism service programs, as well as other non-union hourly employees.
In 2014 (the last year for which complete figures are available), the Alliance’s public safety officers assisted residents, workers, and tourists in more than 790,000 separate cases. In the same year, its sanitation force removed more than 150,000 bags of trash from local streets, and cleaned up more than 2,000 incident of graffiti.
Alliance president Jessica Lapin said, “I’m incredibly proud that the Alliance is making the decision to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all of our uniformed service employees. These men and women dedicate themselves each and every day in service to Lower Manhattan. Today, we make sure their wages reflect the significance of their work and can better support themselves and their families.” The activities of the Alliance affect Lower Manhattan quality of life in myriad ways.
The Alliance’s 58 safety and security personnel routinely intervene in situations that range from merely alarming to genuinely awful. In 2014 and 2015, these included summoning help for an unconscious man who was having a seizure, reuniting with his caregivers a mentally disabled man who had become lost, stopping a street brawl, safeguarding two women who were victims of sexual harassment, and foiling an attempted robbery.
Some of the Downtown Alliance public safety team
at a recent awards ceremony
In the aggregate, these important — but often unnoticed — actions contribute to making Lower Manhattan a better, safer place. To achieve this, the Alliance’s public safety officers undergo a level of training that some Lower Manhattan residents might find surprising. Several have attended multi-week training programs provided by the New York Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In the nearly 20 years that the Alliance has been fielding public safety officers, crime in Lower Manhattan has dropped considerably, while the residential population has more than doubled. The group’s mission has changed with the times.
Today, in addition to counterterrorism training, the Alliance’s public safety team is also coached on providing Lower Manhattan’s 11.5 million annual tourists with directions, district maps, and recommendations on local attractions. But they also respond as a unit to grave crises, such as 2013’s Hurricane Sandy, when eight officers remained at their posts and on duty for 72 consecutive hours, providing crucial on-the-ground updates in real time about weather conditions, street closures, and flood impacts in Lower Manhattan.
The mission of the Downtown Alliance is to enhance Lower Manhattan for businesses, residents and visitors. (Along with providing security, the Alliance also provides trash pickup and operates the business improvement district, or BID, that covers the area south of Chambers Street.) Among the services provided by the Alliance that Lower Manhattan residents especially prize is the Downtown Connection shuttle, which ferries passengers (free of charge) between 37 local stops that link residential areas neighborhoods with business and shopping districts. The Downtown Connection was launched by the Alliance in 2003 and expanded in 2009. Funded in part by the Battery Park City Authority, the Connection shuttle is currently utilized by more than 800,000 people each year.