Have NYC essential workers died while on the job?


NYPD members salute the comfort of the USNS Naval Hospital ship as it leaves the west side of Manhattan to return to Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia.

NYPD members salute the comfort of the USNS Naval Hospital ship as it leaves the west side of Manhattan to return to Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia. | Getty Images

New York

Not since September 11, an outside threat has so quickly devastated the ranks of the city.


NEW YORK – Catherine and Raymond Abear had planned to buy a waterfront property in Florida, exchanging their hectic city life for the sun, surfing and downtime with their children: Stella, 5 months, and Jackson, 2 years old.

Within two weeks, the coronavirus torpedoed that dream.

The disease infected both parents in its stampede in New York last month, killing 43-year-old detective NYPD and turning a 37-year-old housewife into a shocked widow. Her husband, like all victims of the coronavirus, did not obtain the status of “basic service” which would provide health insurance to her family. So instead of planning trips to Disney World, Abear is now looking to pay for her daughter’s next vaccine.

“My husband was 19 years old from work, so he would retire next year and talk about his retirement every day,” she said in a recent interview. “He was so looking forward to spending time with his family, especially his children. Now it’s going to be so different. “

Abear is part of spam open club: parents of city workers who reported to work during the Covid-19 epidemic caught the virus and died. So far, 245 municipal workers have been lost to illness – teachers who attended school before Mayor Bill de Blasio shut down the system, paramedics who transport critically ill patients day after day and police detectives like Abear, whose work cannot be done during FaceTime.

Not since September 11, an outside threat has so quickly devastated the city, and as the virus continues to attack, it is likely to leave more municipal workers in its wake.

This forces city and state authorities to face an immeasurable ethical dilemma: have employees who came to work during quarantine caused by a pandemic died directly? What responsibility does the government have for their surviving families if the virus cannot be traced back to their clock hour? And with the death toll continuing to climb, what is the financial cost to city coffers as a recession looms?

New York politicians are grappling with these issues as union leaders organize a campaign to ensure their members lost to the virus get “online service” status. The designation is reserved, quite simply, for injured or deceased workers doing their job: cops shot at a crime scene, firefighters lost in burning buildings, etc. The value of the benefit varies according to the city’s agencies and is granted by a decision of the individual’s retirement council.

“Health officials have determined that this disease is so deadly that the general public must stay at home and yet we have asked some essential workers to show up every day,” said city council member Joe Borelli. , a Republican from Staten Island. “If they had to go to work in a dangerous situation, they contracted him for the performance of their duties. And it comes at a cost and the city and the state should incur those costs. “

Borelli asked de Blasio to sign a decree granting widows like Abear continued health benefits until he and the state legislature settled these thornier issues.

The mayor’s press office declined to answer questions about Borelli’s request or any other plan to deal with the situation, but instead raised the issue at the door of the White House.

“The president left New Yorkers without the tools we needed to protect ourselves; the least he can do now is to support families who have suffered untold losses. The federal government should provide death benefits to eligible people, ”de Blasio said in a prepared statement.

Shortly after the death of Raymond Abear on April 13, his wife obtained his own chest x-ray. As she was about to settle the payment, she discovered that her health insurance had died with him. So she paid $ 275 and began to wonder how she would pay for her daughter’s next pediatric visit.

“We decided together that he would work and support our family financially and that I would stay at home and raise our children. Right now, I am in a position where I must immediately understand these two roles, ”she said.

If the five deceased NYPD detectives from the coronavirus were granted line of service status by the police pension council, Abear would receive health benefits from her husband and part of her salary of $ 97,324 for life. Otherwise, she will have to find immediate income and apply for extended benefits, or COBRA, which could cost up to $ 2,000 a month.

The detectives’ union covers the costs of prescription drugs, glasses and dental care for the families of the deceased, while lobbying for legislation in Albany that would ensure that workers deemed “essential” and then contracted Covid- 19 are believed to have fallen ill. work.

“There is no difference between being shot in the line of duty and dying from this coronavirus,” said Paul DiGiacomo, president of the union. While he was speaking, two other detectives were in critical condition due to the illness.

It asks its members to keep scrupulous records documenting cases of potential exposure. “We don’t know what the future holds, and whether those who test positive for the antibodies could be harmed en route,” said a union memo released Friday.

“We are documenting everything to make sure all of our detectives are protected and this error will not happen again as it did on September 11,” said DiGiacomo.

The hotline status for city workers who worked on the 9/11 relief operations was not easy.

State legislation, signed four years after the attacks, authorized municipal workers who responded and who were subsequently affected by illnesses to disability pensions representing 75% of their wages. These benefits were then extended to the survivors of uniformed workers, representing larger pension payments that could last a lifetime.

Legislators are now using this legislation as a starting point to develop a benefit structure for victims of Covid-19. The September 11 bill, which the mayor at the time, Mike Bloomberg, opposed on tax grounds, required further updates. In fact, it was only last year that Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill extending the same pension benefits to municipal workers without uniforms who were part of the cleanup of the World Trade Center.

“We have just finished an 18-year struggle to guarantee treatment and benefit to all of our 9/11 heroes,” said Pat Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, which represents 24,000 field officers. “Our elected leaders absolutely cannot put the heroes of this pandemic to the test.”

So far, a PBA member has died from the virus. Lynch advised the rest of the family to file a claim for service, in effect daring the police pension board to turn it down when the time comes to make a decision.

Albany lawmakers said the effort was an even bigger undertaking than the protracted 9/11 struggle.

To begin with, it is unknown how long the pandemic will last and it has already cost New York more than six times as many lives as the terrorist attack. Elected officials are also preparing for the possibility that workers who have contracted the virus may develop health problems later in life.

“September 11 was narrow – devastating for a variety of reasons, but it was different. It was only one day, “said Senator Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat working on the bill. “It’s the plague. As crazy as it sounds, this is a modern version of the plague. “

Savino also wants to impose benefits on surviving families of key employees working in the private sector, such as grocery clerks and delivery people.

The cost of all of this has not been determined.

Meanwhile, Cuomo called on the federal government to create a “hero compensation fund” to help front-line workers, and the MTA has agreed to provide death benefits of up to $ 500,000 to families in need. 80 deceased public transport workers. coronavirus.

The FDNY has reported 10 deaths, including fire inspectors, emergency medical technicians and paramedics, who make far less money than firefighters. As recently as last week, the union representing more than 20,000 active and retired firefighters announced that, although none have died from the coronavirus, more than 17 percent of the agency has tested positive for antibodies, indicating probability of infection.

The department’s chief medical officer of health released a statement that all of its employees were exposed to the virus – a general decision which union officials say would help achieve civil servant status.

“Personally, I cannot imagine that the death of a member directly related to this pandemic will not be defined as a mission,” said fire marshal Daniel Nigro in a recent videoconference with the members.

Teachers’ union also joins the effort, arguing that its members were in danger during the first two weeks of March, when the school was in session when Covid-19 had taken its grip on the city . So far, 68 employees of the Ministry of Education have died from the contagion.

Mike Mulgrew, president of the United Teachers’ Federation, said that the Blasio administration had moved too slowly to close the schools and had not provided staff with adequate protective equipment such as masks and gloves. He stopped blaming the mayor’s actions for the rising death toll, but called for adequate support for the remaining families.

“It is a moral imperative,” he said. “All the other big municipalities, they all shut down their systems long before New York.”

Meanwhile, Catherine Abear is trying to figure out how to survive financially without a job during an economic freefall and restrictions on leaving her children with parents.

“They are so young that they have no real idea of ​​time, so he does not know how much time has passed since he did not see his father,” she told about his son Jackson. “He asks about him all the time, but eventually it will stop, because he will forget.”

Danielle Muoio contributed to this report.


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