Mayor de Blasio's cheer of “U.S.A.! Equal Pay! U.S.A.! Equal Pay!” at the July 10 City Hall celebration of the United States Women’s soccer team’s World Cup championship brought a sharp rebuke from the FDNY Emergency Medical Service unions, which have alleged for years that they are the victims of gender- and race-based wage discrimination.
Following his ride on the champions’ float during the ticker-tape parade, the Mayor and Democratic Presidential aspirant rolled out his national blueprint for gender equality, in which he committed to passing a Federal law aimed at ending wage discrimination.
In a joint statement, DC 37’s Local 2507, which represents Emergency Medical Technicians, and Local 3621, which represents EMS officers, accused the Mayor of using the team’s celebration “to grab attention for his presidential run and advocate against pay inequality” even as “the first responders of FDNY EMS are victims of that same inequity.”
The statement continued, “With 30% of our members being women and 50% minorities, we are one of the most diverse departments in the City of New York. Yet the difference in salaries after five years is tens of thousands of dollars. The women's national team deserves equal pay, but so do the hardworking EMTs and paramedics who save lives routinely and who the Mayor has ignored.”
As thousands of soccer fans cheered in City Hall Plaza, the Mayor doubled down on supporting the female soccer players’ class-action lawsuit, filed in March, alleging that their employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation, had violated U.S. Equal Pay Act, which has been on the books since 1963, by paying their male counterparts more.
“This team has shown an undeniable truth, an inalienable right—that the equality of women must be guaranteed in this nation,” Mr. de Blasio said. “And let’s honor them by doing it—let’s honor them by ensuring it.”
Leads to Turnover
The EMS unions blasted Mr. de Blasio in January when he appeared to justify the significant pay disparity between the EMS workforce and FDNY Firefighters when he said “the work is different. We are trying to make sure people are treated fairly and paid fairly but I do think the work is different.”
In responding to the union locals’ most recent statement, a Mayoral spokesperson took a more conciliatory tone. "The work that FDNY EMS does is vital to our City" and the Mayor is committed to “reach an agreement that is fair to workers and NYC taxpayers.”
Local 2507 and Local 3621, as well as the Probation Officers Association, are in different stages of litigation with the de Blasio administration over what the unions contend is longstanding gender and race-based pay discrimination.
Union officials have complained that the pay disparity and the FDNY promotions system together lead to a constant turnover of EMTs, undermining morale and greatly reducing the level of experience on the job as hundreds of EMTs leave to become Firefighters or Police Officers.
“The fact is 80 percent of new hires leave EMS within four years,” Oren Barzilay, President of Local 2507, testified at a recent City Council hearing. “When they leave, they take well-honed clinical expertise with them. This, when coupled with a recent and ongoing wave of retirements, creates a naïve, inexperienced and marginally prepared workforce.”
Studies have documented a strong link between improved medical outcomes for EMS patients during what is referenced to as the “golden hour” with the level of field experience of the responding EMS team.
Council Weighs In
During his opening remarks at a June 25 hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Civil Service and Labor addressing pay inequities for some municipal workers and attended by a standing-room-only audience, the committee chairman, I. Daneek Miller, said that despite the fact that “EMS workers perform first-responder duties in a similar capacity to firefighters and cops, and face extreme situations where their health and safety are on the line…they are paid a fraction of what their first responder brothers and sisters make.”
He continued, “For example, within the FDNY, EMTs are paid a little more than $50,000 a year after five years of employment, yet for the same time period, Firefighters are paid about $110,000—more than double what EMTs make. This pay disparity is shocking, as EMTs and paramedics provide vital care to people at emergencies throughout the city and are predominantly women and people of color.”
Systemic gender-based pay discrimination within the City's civil service may be more widespread than just the titles that have been the subject of litigation. A 2018 analysis of the City’s pay practices by the office of then-Public Advocate Leticia James found that the average salary of women at the top-10 majority-women municipal agencies was $10,000 less than the average salary of men at the 10 largest majority-male agencies.
Earlier this year, CWA Local 1180 reached a $15 million pay-discrimination settlement with the city that covers roughly 2,000 union members.
Ending gender and race-based employment discrimination within the city, including within the municipal civil service, has been a top priority of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo and Council Member Miller, chair of the Council’s Civil Service and Pensions Committee.
In April 2018, the City Council passed a law requiring that the city annually disclose pay and employment equity data within municipal agencies. City’s agencies will be required to submit that data to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services by Nov. 30.
By February 28 of next year, and for every year thereafter, DCAS has to turn that data over to the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics, which in turn has until April 29 to provide access to the pay data to the City Council. By the end of the following month, a report has to be issued to the Mayor and City Council Speaker and posted online.
In an interview after the June hearing, Mr. Miller likened the potential impact of the public disclosure of the pay data with what happened when the City Council mandated that the NYPD regularly report the race and age of the subjects of its controversial stop-and-frisk strategy.
"Reporting creates transparency," he said.
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