Two dozen city workers from Ground Zero put on unlimited sick leave
The workers, including paramedics and EMTs, have been granted unlimited sick leave as they fight the illnesses linked to their time at Ground Zero
By Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — Two dozen city workers have finally been granted unlimited sick leave as they fight the illnesses linked to their time at Ground Zero – as critics hammer Mayor de Blasio for doling out the much-needed help on a chaotic, piecemeal basis, the Daily News has learned.
The added sick leave coverage comes six months after de Blasio approved the special sick leave for DC37, one of the city's largest unions – vowing the agreement would form the basis for additional pacts with unions whose workers suffer with a 9/11 illness.
Those now being helped include FDNY and NYPD civilian workers who don't normally get unlimited sick leave, as well as EMTs and paramedics, City Hall officials said. City employees currently getting the benefit work at the Department of Correction, Administration of Children's Services and Department of Transportation.
All have been diagnosed with an illness related to 9/11 and can prove they spent time at Ground Zero after the terror attacks.
City spokesman Raul Contreras said the 9/11 unlimited sick leave benefit is "up and running and available to the vast majority of eligible workers."
"We're working with a few outstanding unions to have them adopt the benefit to ensure it's available and easily accessible for city workers who rely on it," he told The News.
In 2017, 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 de Blasio didn't follow suit, opting for a union-by-union approach. About nine unions still haven't finalized a sick leave agreement with the city.
But critics and 9/11 survivor advocates are furious about the approach, claiming it took the city months to finalize details with some of the unions – including those who signed on in October, delaying benefits for some until early March.
Others blast the union-by-union approach as one that's created nothing but chaos.
"Nearly six months after they announced some deal, no one can explain the deal, how it works, what is happening – and the story changes from day to day," said one insider who deals with 9/11 survivors. "What we do know is that this mayor opposed the legislation in Albany and now we have confusion."
DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido admits it took time to get the sick leave benefit rolling.
"It was slow at the beginning because we had to work out some of the kinks with the different agencies," Garrido said. "But the bulk of the people who needed it got it as soon as possible."
But some union heads say the city should never have approved 9/11 sick leave in such a piecemeal fashion.
"We keep telling the city that we need unlimited sick leave and the mayor's office says that's on their agenda," said Syed Rahim, the president of Local 1182, who represents traffic enforcement agents.
Rahim added about 15 union members suffer from 9/11 illness.
"At least two have cancer," he said. "It's not fair, they have to give (unlimited sick leave) to everyone. You can't give it to one union and can't give it to another."
City officials counter the unlimited sick leave isn't linked to the bargaining process, saying all union administrators have to do is sign on. But Rahim claims neither he nor his attorneys have gotten any paperwork regarding the 9/11 sick leave.
While police, firefighters, correction officers and sanitation workers have been granted unlimited 9/11 sick leave, before this deal, about 4,000 civilian city workers couldn't get unlimited sick leave.
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