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Labor, Community Demand Equitable Recovery Post-Sandy

January 10, 2013
Marc Bussanich

Sixty-eight days passed before Congress passed $9 billion in initial aid to help property owners recoup losses post-Sandy. New York is waiting on another $51 billion before recovery and rebuilding can begin on a considerable scale.

As New Yorkers wait for the remaining money, multiple labor, faith-based and community groups at City Hall on Tuesday, January 8 called on state and city officials to rebuild equitably and demanded that they be given a seat on the recently-established commissions to provide input on how to use the money to rebuild devastated communities.

In an interview, Kyle Bragg, 32BJ’s Secretary-Treasurer, said that the $9 billion allocated by Congress is a good start, but falls far short to meet the enormous needs of shattered neighborhoods.

“There were devastated areas wracked by high unemployment before Sandy struck. The recovery and rebuilding phase represents an opportunity to use federal funds to put people back to work rebuilding their own communities where they lived before the storm, rather than being displaced, as what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck,” said Bragg.

“We want to see a just recovery for our members and other residents who lived in areas destroyed by the storm. We need a seat at the table to ensure that the money goes to areas most seriously affected by the storm.”

Patricia Kane, New York State Nurses Association’s Treasurer, said that there are still health care facilities that remain closed more than two months after the storm.

“Shore Acres in Midland Beach on Staten Island, as well as nursing homes in Rockaway and Coney Island are still closed.”

She noted that she is very concerned about how the recovery and rebuilding will proceed.

“Access to health care is our priority. We’ve seen a disturbing trend elsewhere toward the privatization of any remnants of public health care. Bellevue Hospital still does not have any in-patient beds and Coney Island Hospital just recently restored some. New York University received $114 million and the staff did an excellent job evacuating over 200 patients, but Bellevue nurses evacuated over 700 patients,” said Kane.

She also noted how private hospitals are using the storm as a cover to scale back services.

“Some of the private hospitals are trying to remove beds or shut down services arbitrarily without going through the certificate of need process, which requires state approval. At St. Lukes Hospital they were planning to close a pediatric and detox unit until we intervened,” Kane said.

A broad range of organizations are involved in the campaign to push for an equitable recovery, including the Communications Workers of America, Laborers Local 78, NYC Labor-Religion Coalition, Occupy Sandy, Make the Road NY and the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Kane said that she’s learned a lot from working with the different organizations.

“We’ve really been coordinating very well. I never realized how much long-term recovery depends on the efforts of faith-based and volunteer organizations. While the government’s initial response is to get the case management process going, it’s groups like the Red Cross that remain for the long haul."

According to Kane, Mayor Bloomberg’s office did not listen to the nurses volunteering their time in some of the hardest hit areas after the storm for supplies and other resources. But with nearly 50 organizations participating in the alliance for an equitable recovery, Kane is hopeful that the state and city will notice.

“They better listen when labor, the community and faith-based groups come together,” Kane said.


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