New York, NY – Local 2507, Uniformed EMT’s, Paramedics, and Fire Inspectors FDNY, is a union with a little over 4,000 members. Their frontline work over the course of the pandemic has put them in the crosshairs of danger as they expose themselves and their families to the ravages of the COVID-19, all for the sake of the people they serve. LaborPress talked to Oren Barzilay, president of the union, about how his members are coping, the pandemic’s effects on their lives, and what he thinks they deserve for their heroic days on the job.
LP: The most difficult question to ask is how many people in your membership became sick or died because of the virus. Can you share the stats with us?
OB: Nearly 2,000 became sick. Five died, and three committed suicide due to COVID-related stress.
LP: How many had their work interrupted?
OB: All of the above had to be placed on medical leave. Some for months, some for a year, due to extended effects. They all had to be cleared to come back.
LP: You told us in November that a lot of seniors and some of the younger people retired or resigned, that they didn’t want to risk their lives over such low pay, and that starting salary is minimum wage. Is that still going on?
OB: Yes, a lot of people have resigned or retired. More than our usual number.
LP: Also in November, you told us the union was still waiting to get P100 masks, that come with a filter. Did you ever receive them?
OB: Yes, we did, in that month.
LP: What happened with the layoffs the city was threatening?
OB: No layoffs took place. We were able to push it off til June 2022, for the next budget year. It was an accomplishment for us to at least keep our members. Now that the bailout is coming from Washington, we don’t foresee it happening at all, hopefully.
LP: Is the union still short-staffed? If so, how does it affect patient outcomes?
OB: It’s still an issue for us. The call volume is back to its pre-COVID normal, so response time is slowly creeping up again. Traffic, will go up; restaurants and Broadway will open up and this will lead to an extended response time.
LP: Do you consider the actions of your members heroic?
OB: This is definitely an extraordinary time for all public sectors and first responders. But especially my workers, who were the only ones going in. Police and firefighters were told to stay outside unless EMS requested them. We were the first ones in, the last ones out. And they are risking not just their own lives but their family’s lives because they take it home with them. They are under extreme duress, all for a minimum wage salary. It’s a shame in a country like ours that we can’t take care of our own.