9/11 First Responders Stand to Lose Their Jobs Despite Sick Leave Law
By: Ilana Siyance
Some EMS members for the Fire Department of New York, who are suffering 9/11 related injuries, are learning the hard way that their sick leave will not be “unlimited”, as promised.
As reported by the NY Post, about half a dozen public employees who spent time cleaning up the devastation of the 9/11 terror attacks and are now suffering health consequences, have been informed this summer that they’ll be fired for being out sick for more than year, despite promises from politicians regarding a 2019 “unlimited” sick leave state bill for first responders. The FDNY told the workers that they will lose their jobs if they don’t come back to work. Many of them, however, were in the middle of prolonged legal battles with the NYC Employee Retirement System (NYCERS) hoping to be granted an early “three-quarters” disability pension.
Those applications have since been denied, and now the FDNY EMS members are stuck in a bureaucratic limbo, between sick leave and retirement which can take years in court and may potentially leave them empty handed. “The World Trade Center population has always been looked on as a very, very cherished group of individuals,” said a disappointed Gary Smiley, the World Trade Center liaison for Local 2507, the paramedics and fire inspectors union. “I don’t understand why you want to hurt these folks more than they’ve already been hurt. They responded to what they thought was a plane crash, but which turned into a nightmare that 21 years later continues to be a nightmare. Why do you want to add to these folks’ nightmare by not protecting them?” There are currently up to 200 EMS personnel who responded to the terror attacks and who are either still working or on temporary leave with 9/11-related injuries, and who may also soon find themselves let go, said Smiley. “You have the potential of causing over 200 people to be financially destitute,” he added.
One such NYC employee, who is among the handful to already lose her job, is Bronx EMT Vanessa Rodriguez. She spent almost a year collecting body parts at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 attacks. Now, two decades later, she is suffering from stage-three cancer, caused by the toxic dust she was exposed to. As per the Post, the disabled mother of two was notified in May of her termination from the FDNY and is forced to apply for welfare. She thought that the bill signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo would cover city workers for related injuries with the same unlimited sick leave law that covers the NYPD and FDNY. “I thought that the city would take care of us,” Rodriguez, 47, told The Post. “I feel left out, like, ‘Here you go. You did your job. Now get out.’ It’s just so unfair the way they are handling things.”
The city’s Law Department says that the bill doesn’t actually guarantee “unlimited” sick time. They claim Article 71 of the state’s civil service law, which allows agencies to terminate workers who’ve been out with job-related disabilities for over a year, overrides that state bill. The FDNY said these terminated employees have been out sick for well over a year and can’t be expected to keep their jobs. The agency blamed NYCERS for denying the workers early retirements.