November 19, 2014
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—The firefighters union blasted the City Council on Wednesday for holding public hearings about whether to raise taxes on plastic grocery bags while ignoring a hearing on increasing disability payments for new firefighters who get hurt on the job.
In the blistering cold outside City Hall where about 200 firefighters stood behind their union officers, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, Stephen J. Cassidy, implored the City Council to stop debating about whether to raise taxes on plastic bags and instead have a debate about public safety.
“The reality is this—New York City firefighters risk their lives every single day. They have recently hired over 1,000 new firefighters who don’t have disability benefits. The UFA isn’t going to let that stand. This will never end for us until we have the same benefits whether you have 20 years or one year on the job,” said Cassidy.
The union wants the City Council to hold a hearing so that it creates a home rule message to change the disability benefits so that they are uniform for all uniformed workers.
“We deserve a home rule; we want a hearing. If we have a hearing, trust you, we have the votes. We have the votes in the Council to give us the home rule to go up to Albany to do the hard work to convince the Legislator and Governor that this is something that has merit,” Cassidy said.
Just on Tuesday the city graduated 280 new firefighters and another 300 are expected to enter the Fire Academy in about six weeks. According to the union, should any of these new hires sustain a career-ending disability in the line of duty they would receive a disability pension daily payment of only $27.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, chair of the Committee on Fire & Criminal Justice, said she would be introducing a bill next week that would call on the City Council to have a home rule message to change the disability benefits.
“Our cops and our firefighters are always there when we need them, always there risking their lives for our safety. Now it is our turn as the City Council to be there for them and their families,” said Crowley.
She was then asked about how much the total cost would be to the city to increase disability payments for new firefighters should they be hurt on the job.
“It’s hard to say, but when we look at the cost in terms of the overall budget—we have a $75 billion budget—and this is just pennies in comparison to the overall budget, especially even if you just look at the cost of running the fire department or the police department, it’s a fraction of a fraction of a percent,” Crowley said.
Mr. Cassidy then displayed the advertisement directed to the City Council the union ran in the New York Post on Wednesday showing an image of a plastic bag with a smiley face with the words, “Thank You, Have a Nice Day!” juxtaposed with an image of firefighters battling a burning building.
In the accompanying video interview, we asked Mr. Cassidy about why there hasn’t been a hearing thus far.
“If they hold a hearing, we will win. I think we have the votes already. But they won’t give us a hearing and they want to have a debate about plastic bags and taxes and all the other nonsensical things that come before this Council. They’re allowed to do that. But they should be honest and have a fair hearing on this issue for firefighters and police officers,” Cassidy said.