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UFT paying costs of Staten Island congestion-pricing fight

New York City’s powerful teachers’ union is bankrolling Staten Island’s legal fight to stop the MTA’s congestion pricing plan, The Post has learned.

The United Federation of Teachers is “taking the lead” on the Brooklyn federal court lawsuit, supplying the lawyers and planning to pick up all costs associated with the case, said Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella, who along with the union is a plaintiff in the suit.

“I give [UFT President] Mike Mulgrew a lot of credit for having the guts to step forward,” Fossella said Friday night. “He said his members would be hurt by this – especially new teachers who make the lowest salary and have little to no say where they’ll be assigned.”

The union declined to say how much it expects to shell out in legal fees.

The lawsuit filed Thursday argues that teachers, firefighters, EMS workers and other essential public servants would be “forced to shoulder the burden of the MTA’s latest fundraising gambit.”

Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella is a plaintiff along with the teacher union to put a stop to the MTA’s congestion pricing plan. Brigitte Stelzer

Mulgrew called Fossella “out of the blue” a few months ago and asked if Staten Island was serious about a legal challenge, the Republican borough president recalled.

“He asked if we could do it together, and they would want to take the lead on the legal side, and I said ‘great — by all means.’ The more the merrier,” Fosella said.

“We have been working very quietly over the past few months to build what we think is a strong case.”

The legal team is led by Alan M. Klinger, a partner and powerhouse municipal labor lawyer at Steptoe LLP, and it includes other lawyers at the New York-based firm. Klinger’s longtime clients include the UFT, Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association and other city labor unions. 

The lawsuit claims that teachers, firefighters, EMS workers and other essential public servants would be the ones to bare the brunt of the congestion fees. AP

The firm’s major wins the past few years include scoring a $40 million jury verdict in 2022 for client Express Mobile Inc. in a patent-infringement case against e-commerce firm Shopify.

The suit asks the court to halt the implementation of the plan, which is slated to launch as soon as May and would charge drivers $15 per day to use city streets and avenues south of 60th Street in Manhattan.

It also contends the plan was green-lighted through a “rushed” federal review process and would create more pollution on Staten Island and in the Bronx as drivers divert around the congestion zone.

Besides the UFT, Fossella and Mulgrew, the suit names as plaintiffs seven teachers who claim their lives would be negatively affected by congestion pricing – including four from Staten Island and one from New Jersey who commute to Manhattan.

The suit states that the congestion plan would increase pollution in Staten Island and the Bronx as traffic diverts through those boroughs. AP

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis and City Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli, both Staten Island Republicans, told The Post they plan to join on as plaintiffs — despite the UFT’s long history of backing left-leaning pols, such as Gov. Kathy Hochul, who have championed congestion pricing.

“I will partner with anyone and everyone who shares the same goal, and in this case it is to stop congestion pricing in its tracks,” said Malliotakis.

Other city unions are expected to submit legal briefs backing the suit, said Fossella.

The suit is at least the fourth court challenge brought over the toll plan in recent months, including a federal lawsuit filed in July by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who contends the feds didn’t conduct a proper review of the toll’s impact on Garden State drivers.

Critics of the MTA’s plans also claim that the federal review process was rushed and did not take the surrounding boroughs and New Jersey into consideration. Christopher Sadowski

Fossella initially planned to have Staten Island join on to Murphy’s suit, but he said he had a change of heart after speaking to Randy Mastro, the lawyer representing New Jersey, and learning their arguments for blocking the tolls differ too much from his borough’s.

Mulgrew in a statement defended the union’s decision to lead the suit, saying “congestion pricing was sold as a common good that would improve air quality for New York City, improve traffic congestion for New York City and raise money for public transportation… But that’s not the plan they delivered.

“Only one borough would see improved air quality and improved congestion – Manhattan. For people in the other boroughs, pollution and congestion would actually get worse, especially in the South Bronx and Staten Island. That’s the plan that was delivered. It’s a flawed plan and that is why we asked the court to step in,” he added.

Transit officials expect the toll to raise $1 billion per year, which will be used to fund $15 billion in bonds to pay for major upgrades to the MTA’s subway, commuter railroads and bus systems.

MTA spokesman John McCarthy insisted the review process was fair and that the controversial tax would “combat ever-worsening clogged streets.”

“We must adequately fund a public transit system that will bring safer and less congested streets, cleaner air, and better transit for the vast majority of students and teachers who take mass transit to school,” he added.

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Written by SaleemBaloch

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