Borough President Gale A. Brewer stands with NYC tour guides and condemns tour bus operator’s layoff threat

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For Immediate Release: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 
Please Contact: Andrew Goldston | agoldstonatmanhattanbp [dot] nyc [dot] gov |917.960.1187 
Photos Available: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk8TSEY9

 Borough President Gale A. Brewer stands with NYC tour guides and condemns tour bus operator’s layoff threat

NEW YORK – Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer joined licensed New York City tour guides affiliated with the Guides Association of New York City and Transport Workers Union Local 225 on the steps of City Hall today for a rally supporting live tour bus guides and opposing the Gray Line tour bus operator’s scare tactics in contract negotiations.

In February, the Daily News reported on a leaked internal memorandum from the Gray Line tour bus operator, threatening a “mass layoff” of 150 tour guides on March 11. This layoff threat comes amid contract negotiations between Gray Line and TWU Local 225, which represents the tour guides.

Gray Line, which merged with competitor City Sights in 2009, is also the subject of an antitrust lawsuit filed by the United States and New York attorneys general, alleging the merger violated multiple state and federal antitrust laws, restraining competition and enabling monopolistic price-fixing.

The tourism industry in New York City remains healthy and growing, with overall tourist/visitor spending projected to reach $45 billion per year by the end of 2015. According to filings from 2012, Gray Line and the other tour bus brands under the “Twin America” umbrella were earning roughly $100 million per year. Yet even amid the company’s success and market dominance, pay for tour guides has fallen, and guides have been subjected to repeated layoff threats, such as three years ago, when a similar layoff threat preceded a contract that instituted a $3 per hour pay cut.

These layoff threats are often accompanied by threats that tour guides will be replaced with automated audio recordings. Live tour guides are licensed by the City Department of Consumer Affairs, provide a more enriching experience for tourists, and also ensure the safety of their customers.

“Live tour guides provide a skilled service in our booming tourism industry and the bus operators that benefit from their hard work shouldn’t bully them with repeated threats of mass layoffs and replacement by automated recordings,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “At a time when New York City is trying to lead the nation in fighting inequality and lifting up working families, this business that literally introduces visitors to our city should bargain fairly with the New Yorkers who make it run.”

Comment from NYC tour guides and advocates:

“Gray Line claims to be ‘truly the local expert,’ but it’s licensed New York City tour guides who make that statement accurate,” said James Muessig, TWU Local 225 Section Chair for Tour Guides / Customer Service Agents. “If the tour guides are replaced by taped machines, the tourists would be better off reading Wikipedia on the subway.”

“Many GANYC members are freelance, while others hold salaried positions as guides. But we know that an attack on one segment of the guiding community affects us all and is an affront to the hard work, talent, and skill that we bring to our vocation,” said Judy Richheimer, chair of the Guides Association of New York City’s Government Relations Committee. “This not just a question of protecting jobs. Above all, we want to protect standards. The safety, comfort, and enjoyment of our customers – whose impressions of our city are often determined by the tour guides they encounter – is of paramount concern. A machine, i.e., canned narration, will not insist to management that buses be kept sanitary, free of vermin, and climate-controlled for extreme weather. A machine will not keep its eye on passengers to see that they are safely in their seats. A tour guide working on that bus will!”

"I take pride in offering excellent service as a licensed NYC Sightseeing Guide. If I do my job well I help guests make memories they will treasure for life. Automated tours deprive guests of the human experiences that make great memories, and they could never capture the vibrancy of New York,” said Marcos de Jesús, a ten-year licensed sightseeing guide and a member of TWU Local 225 and the Guides Association of New York City. “Tourism is a major industry for our city today. New Yorkers need tour companies to provide good jobs and authentically showcase the beautiful human diversity of our city. New York competes in a global market with other tourist destinations, and ‘real-ness’ is our strongest brand. Please help us keep New York City real."

Comment from Manhattan elected officials:

“Replacing live guides with canned, electronic narration would be an extremely ill-advised and short-sighted decision,” said Council Member Corey Johnson. “These tour guides are part of our City’s culture, a valuable asset that should not be discarded. I join many of my colleagues and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer in standing with the members of the Transport Workers Union local 225.”

"A threat to working New Yorkers from Gray Line bus company during ongoing negotiations is unacceptable. Guides help show the greatness of our city, and they should not be laid off or threatened. A great city deserves great guides. Nor can in-person guides be replaced by machines, for both safety and quality of experience. I applaud Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for leading the way on this issue," said Council Member Ben Kallos.

"It’s outrageous that Gray Line is threatening its employees with mass layoffs in the middle of a contract negotiation and using scare tactics in an attempt to lower wages for hundreds of workers across our city,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman. “Real tour guides provide a safer and more enjoyable experience for our city’s visitors than automated voices and I applaud Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and the Guides Association for New York City for standing up for this important part of our tourism economy.”

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