More than 17 years after the devastating attacks of September 11, the City of New York is finally granting unlimited sick time to all workers suffering from 9/11-related illnesses.
At the end of October, the City bowed to pressure brought by 9/11 survivor advocates and promised to secure unlimited sick time to all City employees who helped in the rescue and recovery efforts in Ground Zero — and now are paying for it with their lives. Unions were at the forefront of making sure that all these City employees were put on the same footing as first responders, police officers, and firefighters.
The City, DC 37, and EMS unions Local 3621 and 2507 negotiated the terms that will provide unlimited 9/11 sick leave to City workers who participated in World Trade Center rescue, recovery and cleanup operations and contracted a 9/11-related illness. The initial agreement grants unlimited 9/11 sick leave to employees in a range of titles across several City agencies, including Emergency Medical Technicians, peace officers, laborers, engineers, and others. This sick leave is retroactive to September 11, 2001, and leave taken since then that has been verified to cope with a certified 9/11-related illness will be restored. It is estimated that approximately 2,000 active employees will be covered by this agreement, which formed the basis for additional agreements with other unions.
Local 246 President Joe Colangelo said after that agreement was reached, he contacted the City to make sure that Local 246 members would be included as well if they qualify.
Several months ago, Colangelo testified at a Senate hearing in NYC about 9/11 sick leave. “I am here today to talk about a subject that is heart wrenching but cannot be avoided. Everyone knows the horror that happened on September 11, 2001. As the years passed, some of the individuals who participated in the cleanup and recovery developed a variety of illnesses related to their work. Most uniform employees have unlimited sick leave as part of their contract, affording them peace of mind as they fight through whatever illnesses they face. Unlimited sick leave would provide their families and loved ones with some semblance of financial stability while they focus on their health.
“Unfortunately for civilian workers, the same is not true. Most civilian worker contracts allow, in most cases, 12 sick leave days per year. Therefore, if they are battling through a 9/11 illness, they will exhaust their sick leave accruals rather quickly and then face financial difficulty. If civilian members were afforded unlimited sick leave, they then can take care of their health knowing that there will be no change in the family finances. Choosing between health and financial security should not be a choice anyone has to make, especially considering the circumstances.”
Just recently, Local 246 received a letter of agreement from OLR Commissioner Robert Linn stating, “This serves to confirm our mutual understanding regarding a WTC 9/11 line of duty injury/illness benefit. All Local 246, Service Employees International Union, AFL CIO members employed by the City and other covered organizations shall receive the benefit set forth in the October 23, 2018 letter agreement between the City of New York and DC 37, pursuant to all terms and conditions set forth therein.”
Colangelo said that many City employees who were sickened by Ground Zero fumes have been forced to choose between retiring in order to deal with their health, or continue working as they battled terminal cancer. He said that now all union members and non-represented employees who meet the qualifications will receive the benefit.
“We hope this is a benefit that very few people have to take advantage of, but knowing that it is available should it become an issue is reassuring,” Colangelo said.
Last year, Gov. Cuomo signed a bill granting unlimited paid sick leave to state employees with a 9/11-related illness outside of New York City — but the City did not follow suit.
“We are happy that this has finally been resolved,” Colangelo said. “Even within our own union, we have had members pass away from 9/11-related illnesses. The events from that horrific day will be lingering for quite some time.”