City workers with illnesses linked to Sept.11 could soon see their right to unlimited sick leave enshrined into law.
State legislators gave final approval early Friday to a bill that would grant all city employees suffering from 9/11-related illnesses guaranteed access to time off—bypassing Mayor de Blasio, who currently doles out time through the city’s unions.
“We think this is the fair and right thing to do, to support those who supported us," said sponsor Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Brooklyn). “This right should be universal and unequivocal, not subject to any collective bargaining agreements, not subject to the whims of any mayoral administration.”
City officials argued that the bill is unnecessary, noting that nearly all of the unions representing city employees have finalized sick leave agreements and that 101 employees with diagnosed 9/11-related conditions are being helped.
FDNY and NYPD civilian workers who don’t normally get unlimited sick leave, EMTs, and paramedics would all be covered under the bill. A similar piece of legislation granting unlimited paid sick leave to state employees with a 9/11-related illness outside of the city was signed into law in 2017.
De Blasio spokesman Raul Contreras said the city has worked “collaboratively” with unions to establish a policy that already covers all eligible workers.
“The program is operational and we encourage eligible employees who need time away from work to cope with a 9/11 illness to access this benefit, and we thank our partners in labor for making this program a reality," Contreras said.
Gounardes said he failed to see why the city would have a problem with the bill.
“I know that they have said they are already doing this and from my perspective if they’re already doing it then there’s no harm in codifying it into law," he said. "This should not be subject to the whims of any administration or any collective bargaining rules, this is really about honoring the work of those individuals on that pile right after the attacks and in the years after and it’s just a no-brainer.”
City officials said the leave isn’t linked to the bargaining process and that all union administrators have to do is sign on.
The unlimited sick leave bill is part of a trio of measures, known as the “9/11 Heroes Bills," passed by state lawmakers during the final week of the legislative session.
The other two parts of the package allow for additional physicians to be added to the New York City Employees’ Retirement System so city employees’ 9/11-related diagnoses can be approved quicker and institute a five year “look back” for FDNY retirees who develop cancer.
FDNY Uniformed Firefighters Association President Gerard Fitzgerald applauded the passage of the “look back” bill.
“This was a common sense measure to protect firefighters when they have recently retired,” Fitzgerald said.
The “vitally important measure” has an “immediate, real life impact on hundreds of firefighters with service-related cancer diagnoses,” he added.
While police, firefighters, correction officers and sanitation workers were granted unlimited 9/11-related sick leave before these deals, about 4,000 civilian city workers couldn’t get the same benefit.
Critics and 9/11 survivor advocates were infuriated by the mayor’s union-by-union approach, claiming it took the city months to finalize details with no one getting the help they needed. There are also concerns that the sick leave could be altered every time the unions renegotiate with City Hall.