New York, NY – The Uniformed Firefighters Association [UFA] celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017 – throughout the decades, the UFA has fought to protect the rights of its members, obtain better and safer working conditions, secure adequate pay, obtain the equitable resolution of grievances and more.
Local 94, which includes all five boroughs in New York City, is the largest local in the country, in the city with the largest population. President Gerard Fitzgerald spoke with LaborPress about the union’s issues, accomplishments and challenges to help us see the how the union fulfills its mission.
“Since the inception of the union, we were overworked, underpaid, at times working days on end. We fought for better working conditions, higher pay, benefits, our pensions and retirement – which we lost in 2009. [Firefighters] don’t make enough to live in New York City anymore,” says Fitzgerald. “[However], we have presumptive bills for cancer, lung, respiratory, heart, stroke, and communicable diseases.”
The many challenges have come with accomplishments. “The right to collective bargaining, and safety standards – to wear the gear that we have, including the face piece and air apparatus, all the safety gear we wear,” Fitzgerald says. “Every piece has evolved and keeps evolving to safer and better equipment. The FDNY has led the standards for not only safety conditions but tactics in the country and the world. We have the most unusual fires, including those in private homes, high residential buildings and office buildings. Since 9/11, we fought for and secured the Zadroga Act, which secured payment of medical bills for sick and, early on, injured firefighters.”
Another fact of note, is the expanded role of firefighters and the responsibilities they bring. “Our duties have expanded over the years,” says Fitzgerald. “Years ago, it was just fires. Now we respond to just about any emergency imaginable, including biological, medical, terrorism, and accidents – including car accidents, airplane crashes and train derailments. Our job encompasses many things now.”
Current issues that are front-and-center include the rising population of New York City. “The population of New York City is going up,” Fitzgerald warns. “We need more fire stations and firefighters to keep standards up. We are currently in negotiations for a contract – we’ve been without a contract since August 1st, 2017. We are fighting for pension reform, fighting to get back to a twenty-year retirement, and fighting to get back the fifth man on each engine – most have four. That would reduce the work load.”
Meanwhile, there’s the challenge that never goes away – dealing with the toll of 9/11. “We’ve lost 190 members since 9/11. We continue to go to funerals frequently due to the attacks,” the UFA leader says. Despite the tragedy, the members of Local 94 continue to serve with bravery and dignity, setting standards worldwide and fighting for their rights.