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Public Employee Press: PEP Talk

City officials, unions call for support of Coronavirus death benefits at City Council


While the city remains gripped in the shutdown, the City Council is in the process of trying to provide help for frontline workers who have given their all in the fight against the deadly coronavirus.

At a hearing of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, chaired by Council member I. Daneek Miller, the committee heard passionate testimony via teleconferencing from several citywide labor leaders representing police, transit, EMTs, and communications workers from CWA Local 1180, 32BJ SEIU, and DC 37, along with city officials including Steven Banks, First Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel of the city’s Office of Labor Relations, on proposed legislation to provide additional protections for workers classified as essential employees during the pandemic.

The City Council is also considering a resolution calling on the state legislature to automatically classify all municipal workers who have died as a result of COVID-19 as line-of-duty deaths. If the legislation passes in Albany, it would grant additional benefits to family survivors of public workers.

Another key proposal is a law for the city to continue health coverage for surviving spouses, domestic partners, and dependent children of public workers who died as a result of a complication related to COVID-19.

Among the hardest hit in New York City’s public workforce are emergency medical personnel.

Local 2507 President Oren Barzilay at a teleconference City Council hearing on May 5
At the May 5 hearing, Oren Barzilay, president of the FDNY Uniformed EMTs and Paramedics Local 2507, spoke in favor of the proposals, citing the heroic efforts of the local’s members during the pandemic that has raged in New York City since March.

“We cannot forget our men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. The city owes this to them, and also to their families. We need to be aggressive and push forward so that benefits will be available for everyone,” Barzilay said.

Local 2507 members have remained front and center as the pandemic began taking its unending, deadly toll on the city. During the height from late March until early April, New York city’s EMTs, paramedics, and other emergency medical personnel were answering more than 6,000 calls a day.

Local 2507 members were working as many as 18 hours a day under intense pressure. Taking deadly risks with each call, many were also struck with the virus. By early April, a quarter of the city’s EMTs and paramedics were out sick, depleting the ranks as the pandemic continued unabated.

This placed economic pressure on EMTs suffering with COVID-19, or who had tested positive for the virus, which forced them off the job for two weeks in self-quarantine. Local 2507 members have only 14 unchargeable days of sick leave; yet recovery can take up to six weeks.

“We have more than 1,300 members who have suffered from COVID-19 and are back to work because they don’t have the time. Some have stayed out but aren’t getting paid,” Barzilay said.