March 26, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The City of New York has allocated over a million bucks in the current budget to encourage fledgling worker cooperatives throughout the five boroughs, in addition to deciding to now keep track of just how much of its very lucrative business is going to worker-owned enterprises. But there’s one highly visible coop that isn’t getting much love from the current administration.
Connor McHugh, manager of the Clinton Park Stables on W. 52nd Street, remembers his dad selling milk through the dairy cooperative the family belonged to back in Ireland. It’s partly where he initially got the idea to get together with a group of other horse carriage drivers in 2003 to buy and operate the Clinton Park Stables, the 19th century building between 11th and 12th avenues that once housed horses for the Department of Sanitation.
“I think it’s a good idea that the city is encouraging worker cooperatives,” McHugh recently told LaborPress. “It gives the average working man and woman a chance to be an owner. When you’re an owner you have skin in the game, and it’s just all around better for everybody.”
Unfortunately, the current administration's support for worker cooperatives throughout the city doesn’t extend to McHugh’s group. Efforts to ban New York City’s horse carriage industry continue to loom and threaten the very existence of the Clinton Park Stables worker cooperative.
“Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled in on the idea that he was going to look out for the average working guy, but for whatever reason, the mayor doesn’t see us the same way he sees everyone else,” McHugh says.
For horse carriage owner/operators with deep Irish roots like McHugh, the prospect of the government stepping in and shutting down their livelihood is as confounding as it is frightening.
“Our land was stolen from us by the British, and it took us 180 years to recover,” McHugh says. “But when we were kids in Ireland we learned about America, and there was always an uncle or a cousin already living in New York City. So, the idea that we could have everything we own taken by the government in America is hard to believe.”
Councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo [D-17th District] is among the city council’s most vocal champions for worker cooperatives, and helped spearhead legislation now requiring the city to assess municipal support for worker-owned businesses.
However, the Bronx councilwoman also remains one of the elected officials supportive of Mayor de Blasio's efforts to put New York City’s horse carriage drivers out of business.
Up until now, Councilmember Arroyo says she’s been unaware of the Clinton Park Stables’ status as a worker-owned cooperative.
“If it is that kind of business, it has not gotten on the radar of individuals,” Councilmember Arroyo says.
The Clinton Park Stables has long extended an invitation to members of the City Council, as well as the mayor and anyone else, to visit the W. 52nd Street facilities anytime they like.
“It’s the strangest thing," McHugh says trying to understand the cold shoulder. "We were at the forefront of the idea of worker cooperatives."
Opposition to New York City’s horse carriage industry is nothing new. McHugh says the same kinds of animal rights groups pushing elected officials to outlaw his livelihood today, where around 12 years ago when he helped form the Clinton Park Stables cooperative.
“We even had them around when I entered the business in 1986,” McHugh says. “The difference now is money. In the last five or six years, a lot of money has come into those organizations.”