July 15, 2015
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—In the latest move by the Uniformed Firefighters Association to secure higher disability pension payments for its members, the union’s president, Steve Cassidy, announced a new lawsuit against City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, charging her with obstruction of debate and open government.
In the accompanying video interview, we asked Mr. Cassidy why the union is bringing forth the lawsuit.
“We went to court today to compel the Speaker of the City Council to comply with a FOIL request [to learn] which Coucilmember the [Speaker’s office] claims filed paperwork to control the disability issue before Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley did on January 14. I believe that’s a lie. They didn’t tell the UFA or Councilmember Crowley until April 1 that, allegedly, somebody else [submitted the same exact bill]. We think it’s just their way of stifling debate and discussion on disability benefits,” Cassidy said.
According to the UFA, the City Council leadership refused to acknowledge a council resolution in 2014 introduced by Councilmember Crowely, chair of the Committee on Fire & Criminal Justice, and then blocked a public hearing concerning the lack of comprehensive disability protections for FDNY Firefighters. CM Crowley re-introduced the resolution in mid-January only to be told by the Council Speaker's Chief of Staff that an "unidentified councilmember" submittted an identical bill in advance of CM Crowley's submission. The UFA notes that the Speaker's office refuses to identify the sponsor of the bill.
Cassidy is confident the UFA will win in court.
“We’re certainly going to win. All we are asking for is the name and the date they filed the paperwork. I don’t believe they’re going to be able to give us that because I don’t believe it exists, but even if it does exist, some councilmember [presumably the Council Speaker] then decided to control the disability benefits issue just to keep it from coming up for debate. That’s bad government and a complete lack of transparency and we’re not going to stand for it,” said Cassidy.
When asked why he thinks the Council Speaker would block debate on the need to raise disability payments from the current $27 a day (should firefighters be disabled on the job) for hires after 2009, Cassidy wouldn’t say what he believes is the Council Speaker’s motive.
“She’s entitled to be opposed to it; she’s not entitled to stop a debate or a discussion on something that she doesn’t like. That’s the difference. She’s entitled to her opinion, we were entitled to be heard. Firefighters didn’t get a hearing, that’s what this is about,” Cassidy said.