Mayor Bill de Blasio has agreed to grant unlimited sick leave to New York City civilian workers who were exposed to 9/11 dust at Ground Zero when became ill after participating in rescue, recovery and cleanup operations after the terror attack.
This unlimited 9/11 sick leave will be provided to employees across several city agencies and union divisions, including Emergency Medical Technicians, peace officers, laborers, engineers and more. This sick leave is retroactive to September 11, 2001, the city said, and officials will restore any sick leave taken since then that has been verified to be connected with a certified 9/11-related illness.
The mayor made the announcement with union leaders from District Council 37, Local 3621 and Local 2507. The city estimates that about 2,000 current employees will be covered by this change.
“Today the life path of our beloved sick WTC members took a dramatic, positive step forward,” Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, said in a statement. “They can now live in peace knowing they don’t have choose between going to work or getting treated for deadly diseases. They no longer have to worry about putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads. We’re grateful that the city will provide this basic humanitarian necessity to all those who stormed into hell on September 11, 2001.”
Word of de Blasio’s agreement first came ahead of a planned press conference by union members, 9/11 first responders and local politicians meant to encourage the mayor to take that exact step.
“It’s outrageous frankly that they made us wait until the press conference began to finally give us this right,” said Michael Barasch, a lawyer for the 9/11 community. “I’m glad it happened, but it’s too bad it took a press conference to get this done.”
Those union members, civilian 9/11 first responders and local leaders were calling on de Blasio to provide the same unlimited sick days already given to firefighters and cops to the other workers who breathed in 9/11 dust in the days following the terror attack.
“Other city union members like correctional officers, union sanitation officers union EMTs, they don’t get unlimited sick time,” Barasch said of how things worked before this announcement. “So if they do come down with any of the 68 cancers linked to World Trade Center toxic dust and they can’t work, well guess what? They can’t get paid.”
Barasch’s law firm represents 11,000 members of the 9/11 community, he said, half of whom have cancer or have died.
“They were all breathing the same dust, they all believed the EPA when they said the air was safe,” he said, “and they’re all coming down with the same cancers, so they should be treated equally.”
Effort to get unlimited sick leave for all 9/11 responders
The push for unlimited sick leave for all 9/11 responders has been gaining steam this year.
In Sept. 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation expanding unlimited sick leave benefits for public sector employees who participated in 9/11 response efforts, but that bill only applied to those who work outside of New York City.
Similar efforts for New York City have been squashed by de Blasio, critics say.
On Friday, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer wrote a letter to the mayor urging him to “finally take action” and implement a city-wide 9/11 sick leave policy.
“The stated position of the administration is that this is an issue that should be bargained for as part of contract negotiations,” she wrote. “Yet when the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center happened, our city employees did not review their contracts to determine if they should respond; the city shouldn’t be heartlessly hiding behind contract legalese 17 years later.”