Amid pandemic, de Blasio threatens pink slips to paramedics as part of citywide layoffs


08/19/2020 | Politico (read the story online)

Their jobs have gone from essential to dispensable.

Several hundred of New York City’s emergency medical technicians and paramedics stand to be laid off amid citywide budget cuts, even though they were integral to the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, several people involved in the process told POLITICO.

The FDNY, which employs about 3,700 people in the emergency medical services, must provide Mayor Bill de Blasio’s budget team with a list of names by the end of the week, the sources said. The layoffs could come as soon as 30 days after the workers are informed.

Despite the essential role ambulance crews played in responding to a viral outbreak in the spring, when the city was ground zero for the nation’s Covid-19 cases, their jobs were included in the layoff plans while firefighters were exempt, the sources said. Higher-ranking fire officers are also being let go as part of the agency’s $38 million budget cut.

“How do you decrease the workforce that’s already struggling to maintain running ambulances every day?” Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, the EMT union, said in an interview.

He said the force has already lost several hundred EMTs due to low pay and high stress. The workers are paid significantly less than firefighters, though they work for the same agency.

“The risk that our members take for such low pay is just not worth it,” Barzilay added. “People will die by waiting for an ambulance and that’s the reality of it.”

The de Blasio administration blamed the potential cuts on a lack of federal bailout money and Albany’s refusal to give the city borrowing authority to dig out of the fiscal hole caused by Covid-19.

“To be clear: City Hall does not want these layoffs to happen, but this is the hole we are in without a stimulus or borrowing authority,” mayoral spokesman Bill Neidhardt said. “Our EMTs and firefighters save lives every day and we are working with their unions to find personnel savings to avoid layoffs, but unfortunately all agencies will face layoffs.”

De Blasio has warned of 22,000 layoffs, and began dialing up the pressure on agencies to meet specific targets last week, POLITICO first reported.

The move began drawing condemnation as soon as it became public Wednesday evening.

“These are people that were so critical that we had to call in EMTs from all over the country,” during the early months of the pandemic, City Councilman Joe Borelli, a Staten Island Republican, said upon hearing the news. “The grass should be 10 feet tall in the park before we lay off people who are responding to emergencies.”