July 26, 2018
Want Unlimited Leave Cops, Firefighters Get
State Senators Pressure Mayor Over Unequal Sick Time for WTC Civilians
By BOB HENNELLY
A bipartisan New York State Senate panel Sept. 17 blasted the de Blasio administration’s continued refusal to grant unlimited sick time to civilian employees who suffer from certified World Trade Center-related diseases.
Mayor de Blasio’s position has been that the unlimited-sick-time benefit, long enjoyed by firefighters, police and correction officers and sanitation workers, should be the subject of collective bargaining.
Make Deal or Face Bill
At the hearing before the Senate Civil Service and Pensions Committee, there was no daylight between the chair, Marty Golden, a Republican, and Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat. The Senators were joined by Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, also a Democrat, in issuing an ultimatum to the de Blasio administration: either City Hall moves expeditiously to grant the benefit or it will have it imposed by the Legislature when it returns to Albany in January.
Steve Banks, General Counsel of the Office of Labor Relations and Sherif Soliman, Senior Adviser to the First Deputy Mayor, appeared on behalf of the de Blasio administration.
“The city recognizes the need to address this gap when it comes to sick-leave coverage for these workers and is taking steps to address the matter,” Mr. Banks testified. “To that end, we have been in talks with public-employee unions representing workers who would be covered by such a 9/11 sick-leave benefit and hope to have an agreement on the parameters of such benefit this fall.”
Mr. Soliman said that the administration was not trying to “trade” the unlimited-sick benefit for other contract concessions. “This is about reaching a mutual agreement about the mechanics of how this will work and solely on this one issue.”
Up to 15,000 Affected
One estimate of the WTC-affected civilian workforce was that there were 15,000 employees from all levels of government who served alongside thousands of police officers and firefighters during the response and recovery efforts. Mr. Soliman said that the city had 4,000 civilian workers who filed WTC participation forms.
The state legislators were clearly frustrated with the de Blasio administration’s unwillingness to just grant the benefit. Last year, Governor Cuomo signed into law a measure that gave unlimited sick time to all state public workers and municipal employees outside of New York City who are now struggling with a WTC-related illness.
In June a measure to grant the benefit to non-uniformed city workers battling certified World Trade Center diseases won a unanimous vote in the State Senate. It was torpedoed in the final days of the session in the Assembly by Mr. de Blasio’s opposition.
‘Don’t Force This’
“Don’t force us to have do this legislation in January,” said Mr. Golden. “That is still three or four months away before this legislation gets done, and how many more people will suffer and how many more people will not be able to take care of their families?
“Collective bargaining is probably an insult to many people in this room. We should have acted on this much sooner.”
Mr. Kaminsky lamented that it took the Legislature until last year to grant unlimited sick time for state and municipal first-responders from outside the city who were suffering from WTC illnesses. “This really happened that we had officers who came in and had a piece of their tongue removed or part of their intestine removed and who had no more sick time,” he said. “That’s it. They are out and they are out of options. The country let them down…They have just been let down totally until we had to step in.”
No Choice But to Retire
The legislators heard directly from workers like Jen Dougherty, a former FDNY Emergency Medical Technician, who came down with WTC-related cancer but was forced to retire because she had just 12 sick days available, which she went through quickly during six months of chemotherapy.
“I am thankful I had 25 years of service and I was able to retire,” she said. “Because had I not, had this been last year, I would have been screwed. If I was a Firefighter or NYPD I would not have had this worry that I was going to be homeless without pay.”
Vincent Variale, president of District Council 37’s Local 3621, which represents EMS officers, said that none of his members with WTC diseases were looking for a “handout but just for sick leave so they can continue working.”
Oren Barzilay, president of DC 37’s Local 2507, which represents the EMTs, paramedics, and Fire Inspectors, who all get just 12 sick days a year, told the panel that on 9/11 two of his union’s members were killed but 54 members of EMS died subsequently of WTC illnesses.
“We’ve delivered justice to Osama bin Laden and his terrorist organization, yet justice for those who were on the front lines during the 9/11 attack is proving to be exceedingly elusive,” he said. “We were led to believe—by our elected officials—that the air in downtown Manhattan was safe in the aftermath of 9/11.”
He continued, “Many of our EMTs and Paramedics are suffering from the effects of those statements. We have members battling for their lives and some in home-hospice care. Because of the limited sick leave they can use, they are facing dire financial circumstances. They are struggling to pay rent. They are facing mortgage default.”
Joseph Colangelo, who as president of SEIU Local 246 represents the city’s mechanics, several of whom have contracted WTC-related illnesses from repairing and servicing city vehicles damaged in the attack and used in the recovery, said, “Two members have already died.
“Most uniformed employees have unlimited sick leave as part of their contract, and the benefit allows those members to have peace of mind and financial security as they fight through whatever illness they are facing,” he said. “Unfortunately, for civilian workers, the same is not true. Most civilian workers’ contracts allow, in most cases, 12 sick days per year.”
He continued, “Therefore if they are battling through some type of 9/11 illness, most, if not all, will exhaust their leave accruals and then face the real possibility of getting into financial troubles. If these workers choose to enter into Workers’ Compensation to continue to receive a salary, they now face the real possibility of losing their medical coverage, as that coverage will only continue until their leave balances are being used. Once those accruals are exhausted, the medical coverage will stop.”
According to Michael Kenny of the Department of Design and Construction, who’s the first vice-president of DC 37’s Local 375, 400 people from his department worked at the WTC, where the agency was responsible for overseeing the recovery site.
“I already have a list of seven members that have died since June of 2011 and up until June of 2017,” he said. “We are losing people left and right” and those who are sick with WTC-related illnesses “come to work and just hope to die on payroll so that their families will be taken care of.”
‘City Doesn’t Care’
He continued, “And when they have no time left and they are forced off [payroll] they are so concerned about how they are going to make things work…It’s heartbreaking, and the city does not care.”
“I am disheartened and I am disgusted today to be a New Yorker,” said John Feal, of the FealGood Foundation, a 9/11 support non-profit. “The fact that we are here shows [the city’s] lack of empathy and humanity.”
In a July op-ed in the Daily News, Governor Cuomo weighed in on behalf of these members of the municipal workforce battling a WTC disease without the security of unlimited sick time.
“It is hard to believe that any of the brave responders could be neglected when it comes to securing the basic health benefits they need, 17 years after that tragic day. But it’s true,” wrote Mr. Cuomo. “I believe that in New York, we take care of our own, and it’s far past time we fixed this injustice.”
Here is a link to the article published in The Chief Leader (a subscription may be needed to access the entire article).