By BOB HENNELLY
Aug 20, 2020
As many as 400 city Emergency Medical Technicians could be laid off Oct. 1, according to their union leader, District Council 37 Local 2507 President Oren Barzilay.
Such a layoff would eliminate more than 10 percent of the Emergency Medical Service’s workforce.
The personnel reductions are being contemplated as part of the Fire Department’s response to Mayor de Blasio’s order that it cut $38 million from its $2.1-billion budget.
“I got a phone call from an inside source that this was being driven by the de Blasio administration, and I still am asking to see the documents supporting this,” Mr. Barzilay said during a phone interview. “I just don’t understand why we are being targeted in the middle of a pandemic. It just makes no sense.”
Local 2507 has lost several members to the coronavirus.
“If this is true, I think it is extremely irresponsible to layoff 10 percent of the EMS members during the time of a pandemic,” said Vincent Variale, the president of DC 37’s Local 3621, which represents officers. “Many more lives will be put in danger for this reckless behavior. If we have a second wave of COVID, response times will be far worse than they were, and people waited over 30 minutes the last time.”
“A person having a heart attack or a stroke or the bleeding victim of a stabbing or gunshot wound cannot afford an extra five to seven minutes of delay that will likely occur if the Mayor’s master layoff plan is carried out,” Mr. Barzilay said. “If these budget cuts are enacted, people will die needlessly.”
In recent months, the Mayor has said that he would have to lay off up to 22,000 workers this fall unless the city got aid from Washington, additional borrowing authority from Albany or a billion dollars in concessions from the unions.
The public health response required to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which included shuttering much of the economy for months, cost the city billions in tax revenue. At the same time, addressing the crisis, which has taken the lives of over 20,000 residents and hundreds of civil servants, required billions in added city spending.
The Mayor’s Press Office confirmed that no layoff notices had gone out yet.
“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,” Prerss Secretary 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.”
According to Local 2507 there are currently 3,700 active EMS members, with another 180 training at the Fire Academy.
Cites Members’ Efforts
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, FDNY EMS Local 2507 members have remained on the front lines, working tirelessly to respond to hundreds of thousands of dire medical emergencies across New York City, each and every day,” Mr. Barzilay said in a statement. “We did our job, even as an unprepared city government failed to provide these brave medical first-responders and fire inspectors with adequate safety equipment, and even months later, have given them zero access to mental-health counseling for those many suffering from PTSD.”
At the height of the crisis, the city had to import 500 EMTS from around the country who made significantly more than its in-house staff and were paid around the clock, even during their off-time.
According to the FDNY, there are 8,220 Firefighters, 2,791 Uniformed Fire Officers, 4,497 members of the EMS and 2,171 civilian FDNY employees.
In 2018, the FDNY got 1.8 million calls and 1.5 million of them were handled by EMS.
The FDNY’s current overtime annual budget is $211 million.
UFA Also Concerned
Andy Ansbro, the recently elected president of the Uniform Firefighters Association, was alarmed by the news of possible layoffs for EMS.
“This is very concerning,” Mr. Ansbro said during a phone interview. “Everyone believes the coronavirus is coming back, and to cut EMS is just very short-sighted. We won’t see anyone sending ambulances from around the country this time, because they are all going to be staying home because they are in the thick of it right now.”
He continued. “Cutting EMS workers would be a horrible mistake, as would be cutting [other] Fire Department workers as well. We are essential workers for a reason.”
“I know the city is in a difficult financial situation, but I believe there are savings that the city could look into that could result in avoiding anyone being laid off,” said James Lemonda, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.
For months the Municipal Labor Committee has been meeting with the de Blasio administration and pressing for the city to avert layoffs by offering early-retirement incentives to tens of thousands of workers who are a few years shy qualifying for full pensions.
Legislation is also pending in Albany to facilitate early retirement for municipal, county and school-board workers and civil servants with state agencies.
According to Mr. Variale, such a bill could save the city $900 million and encourage older workers at a higher risk from COVID 19 to retire. “The Mayor has been dragging his feet on this,” he said. “Get the younger workforce out there that can handle it and the unions are showing him how he can save almost a billion dollars.”
The Mayor’s Press Office said that talks with the unions were continuing, but any retirement incentive would require legislative action in Albany.