LOWER MANHATTAN (WABC) -- Street vendors and allies marched through the streets of Lower Manhattan to City Hall to demand dignity and more protections on Thursday.
Vendors from across the five boroughs, elected officials, and allied organizations want an end to what they say is unjust enforcement.
The Street Vendor Project is advocating for roughly 20,000 street food vendors and merchandise sellers. They want the same protections that other small businesses receive.
Organizers say the city has only issued 5,000 food vendor permits.
They want to overhaul the system, which they say is outdated and often forces them to buy permits on the underground market.
The organization says the march follows a summer of record-breaking fines and being treated like criminals.
"We want to make sure everything is formalized, all the vendors can access the right licenses and permits from the city to make sure that people are formalizing the business and not dealing with the underground market and not being treated as criminals," said Mohamed Attia, managing director of the Street Vendor Project.
The Street Vendor Project says only about a quarter of the operators have proper permits.
"The hard thing for us is to get the permit because we're working for somebody," food vendor Maged Ereur said. "I have a license for like 15 years but I don't have a permit, I applied for a permit and am still in a waiting list."
The group says roughly 90% of vendors are immigrants.
"They are not criminals, they are hard-working people looking for dignity and looking for the legalization of their businesses," said New York State Sen. Jessica Ramos.
The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection acknowledged vending is a complicated issue, adding:
"Unlicensed vending and vendors who flout the rules put New Yorkers at risk of everything from food borne illness to traffic crashes."
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