Some workers struggling with 9/11 illnesses still don't have unlimited sick time two months after deal announced

By Jillian Jorgensen

Nearly two months after Mayor de Blasio touted a deal to provide unlimited sick leave to all city employees sickened by the 9/11 attacks, some of them still have to choose between cancer treatments and getting a paycheck.

Despite an October agreement with union District Council 37 — which de Blasio’s office said would be extended to other workers — employees like Linda Mercer, an NYPD traffic agent with inoperable liver cancer, still don’t have the unlimited sick leave long afforded to police and firefighters.

“As of this day, I still don’t have unlimited sick time. Come Jan. 4, 2019, I have to go back and do more chemo,” Mercer testified to the City Council Monday. “And my doctor told me this is going to be a heavy dose of chemo, that I won’t be able to come to work. So I don’t have no sick time, so I’m asking ya’ll to please help me. I have to support my family. Without sick time, I can’t go to work, I won’t get paid.”

Mercer stood on the steps of City Hall in late October, weeping as she begged de Blasio to extend the benefit to city workers like her who were sickened working downtown in the months after 9/11. That press conference was interrupted with the news that a deal had been inked with D.C. 37, and that it was expected to be extended to other unions and even non-unionized city workers.

But nearly two months later, only nine other unions have signed on to the deal, Office of Labor Relations counsel Steven Banks testified Monday.

Asked when the city expected to have the benefit extended to all unions, Banks noted that was partly up to the unions.

“That’s a bilateral discussion between us an each union, but based on the feedback that we’ve received so far – obviously it’s a new benefit, on top, we’re not asking for any give-backs or trade-offs,” Banks said.

Council Health Committee Chair Mark Levine said that it wouldn’t be right to expect unions to make trades for the time.

“I don’t think it would be fair if workers who didn’t ask to be sent to work near Ground Zero now are told they have to give something up to receive the benefit of paid sick time,” Levine said during the hearing.

De Blasio adviser Sherif Soloman said that the city’s intent was always “to keep the discussion solely on the issue of extending sick leave benefits.”

But many have questioned why, then, the mayor wouldn’t support Albany legislation to provide the sick leave, or why he didn’t simply do it himself administratively.

Advocate John Feal ripped the D.C. 37 agreement at the hearing — saying the unions had “hijacked” his press conference in announcing it — and he urged remaining unions to spurn the deal. He argued workers should never have been required to bargain for the time, and he criticized the D.C. 37 deal for requiring workers to have the sick time they used for 9/11 illnesses deducted from any leftover sick time they would have banked at the time of their retirement.

“Now I understand the mayor and his labor team are telling all the unions take what has already been negotiated or get nothing,” Feal said. “I am here to tell everybody every union, do not negotiate with the mayor’s office because we’ll be back in Albany in January to get legislation passed so nobody has to negotiate and get force fed.”

A mayoral spokesman on Monday said every effort was being made to get the benefit for those who need it.

“We’re encouraging the remaining unions to sign onto this deal to make this benefit available to all heroes who responded to 9/11 and its aftermath. At the same time, we’re working around the clock with unions, city agencies and WTC Health Programs to implement the technical infrastructure that will deliver this benefit to countless heroes,” said Raul Contreras.

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