NY to provide unlimited sick leave to city employees with 9/11 illness

Mayor de Blasio previously opted to hash out sick leave parameters with individual unions

By Thomas Tracy And Jillian Jorgensen
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — Mayor de Blasio is finally allowing city civilian employees who worked at Ground Zero and are now suffering from a 9/11 related illness the unlimited sick time they desperately deserve, an EMS union head said at a press conference Tuesday.

EMS officers union president Vincent Variale made the announcement at a City Hall rally Tuesday featuring first responders asking the mayor to act on that very issue.

Variale said he’d heard that deal was finalized with DC 37 just as he walked into the press conference.

De Blasio confirmed the deal on Twitter.

“Proud to announce we’ve found a solution to guarantee the brave City workers who served as heroes on 9/11 and during its aftermath will get the unlimited sick leave they deserve,” he wrote.

The mayor and 9/11 survivor advocates, as well as city unions have been trying to hash out the agreement that could put all civilian employees on the same footing with cops, firefighters and sanitation workers when it comes to fighting cancers and illnesses caused by the toxins swirling around Ground Zero.

The deal comes after the Daily News has highlighted a number of cases in which city employees sickened by Ground Zero fumes were forced to retire or, worse yet, continue to work as they fight terminal cancers.

“The mayor has signed an agreement and will provide the 9/11 unlimited sick leave benefit,” Variale said, in the middle of an 11 a.m. press conference.

Variale and EMS Local 2507 union head Oren Barzilay said the agreement would apply to DC 37 and its locals, the two EMS unions, and contained language that would also cover other city workers who served as first responders.

Variale shared the news just moments after Linda Mercer, an NYPD traffic agent from Queens Village, shared her own story -- crying as she begged de Blasio to agree to unlimited sick time for people like her.

For that reason, Variale wasn’t exactly celebrating.

“For anybody to be here today to have to beg this mayor to negotiate a deal, it’s a shame and a stain on New York City, and the mayor, really, I have no other words to say why would you do this to them,” Variale said.

Mercer explained she has been diagnosed with 9/11 cancer -- which began as breast cancer and has moved to her liver. On Sept. 19, she had surgery -- and doctors found the cancer had taken over her liver.

“Now I have to be on dialysis, chemo for the rest of my life. I have continued going to work. I went back to work a week after I had the operation because I know I don’t have no sick time. I am using my annual, I know I don’t have that much, so I went back to work,” Mercer said.

Mercer was directing traffic and inspecting trucks near Ground Zero on Sept. 11 and the days after.

“I never thought that I was going to get sick. I never was worried about getting sick. I was doing my job, while it was hard to do. All I’m asking is the mayor to help me now. I need his help, so I can support my family. Because if I stay home I’m not going to get paid,” she said.

“Please mayor, I’m begging you, you know, do your job, because we did our jobs for you, ok? That’s all I’m asking,” she said, through tears.

Some 4,000 civilian employees diagnosed with 9/11-related illnesses weren’t granted unlimited sick time like cops, firefighters and other first responders were, advocates said.

Critics said that de Blasio could have easily authorized unlimited sick time for them, but opted instead to hash out sick leave parameters with individual unions.

That criticism continued Tuesday, even as news of the deal was emerging.

John Feal, founder of the Feal Good Foundation and an advocate for 9/11 first responders, ripped de Blasio and said that if workers die without the help they deserve, “then locked me in the room with the mayor, and a taser, because I will get arrested.”

“The mayor talks out of the side of his mouth. Oh, he’s tall in stature, but he’s small in leadership. He’s tiny in empathy. He’s minute in compassion. I have zero tolerance for anybody in leadership who does not take care of their own,” Feal said.

Last year, Gov. Cuomo signed off on a bill granting unlimited paid sick leave to state employees with a 9/11-related illness outside of New York City — but de Blasio didn’t followed suit.

The state Legislature recently tried to pass a bill that would put EMS workers, members of the Transport Workers Union and other city employees left sick following 9/11 on equal footing with cops, firefighters and sanitation workers. But a legislative memo from de Blasio put the kibosh on the bill, critics charge.

The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Marty Golden (R-Brooklyn) unanimously passed the senate, but a similar bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer-Amato (D-Queens) never made it to the floor after de Blasio’s opposition memo was distributed to Albany legislators, according to the Chief-Leader, which first reported the story.

The memo, while crediting the city employees who helped in the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero, said the bill “has an unknown cost to the city” and “provides for a vague series of administrative determinations” which would likely create confusion.

“This bill does a poor job of translating a particularly complex process to the context of active service,” the memo notes.

At the time, city officials said the bill didn’t take into account that many of the city’s agencies do not have medical staff, raising questions on who determines if an employee’s illness can be linked to 9/11.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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