A bill to grant civilian public employees who suffer from illnesses related to their World Trade Center service the three-quarters-of-final-average-salary disability pension their uniformed colleagues got years ago failed to get a vote in Albany as lawmakers adjourned for the year.
WTC survivor advocates estimate there may be as many as 15,000 municipal and state workers who would be covered by the bill if they became ill due to their exposure at Ground Zero and its vicinity.
'Top of My Agenda'
“This will be at the top of my agenda in the next session,” State Sen. Martin Golden, who chairs the Senate Civil Service and Pensions Committee, said in a phone interview. “These civilian workers for DC 37 and TWU Local 100 did the work down at the World Trade Center that got them sick. The country owes them this. A week does not go by without a funeral for those that did not hesitate to go down there."
He continued, “All of these people, whether they wore a uniform or not, need to get this money, The money is there.”
In the Senate, the bill was sponsored by Democratic Sens. Tony Avella and Diane Savino. In the Assembly, the measure was put forward by Assemblyman David Weprin.
“There is just no reason that the civilians that served at the WTC should be treated any differently than the police and firefighters,” Mr. Weprin said in a phone interview. “This is just a matter of basic equity.”
“These people were either directed by their agencies to do this work or they volunteered, and it shouldn’t matter whether or not they were wearing a uniform,” Mr. Avella said in a phone interview.
After 9/11, Artie Syken, an employee with the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal, was assigned to canvass Battery Park City, just across the West Side Highway from the World Trade Center. The nine-acre residential complex that housed 9,000 people was seriously contaminated after the Twin Towers collapse.
Mr. Syken, who subsequently developed lung cancer and had his thyroid removed, is a member of District Council 37 and has been the leading 9/11 survivor activist for the parity bill.
'Farthest We've Gotten'
Despite the last-minute disappointment, he sounded upbeat in a phone interview the morning after. “I started this four years ago, and this is the farthest we have gotten yet. I never give up,” he said.
For the legislators who sponsored the bill, the biggest challenge was securing fiscal notes from the three affected pension systems with estimates of the costs to those systems. Those notes were required from the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, the New York State & Local Retirement System, and the New York State Teachers' Retirement System.
That process must start all over with the re-introduction of the bill.
Attorney Jeffrey L. Goldberg has handled several cases of civilian workers who have had to go to court to be awarded their disability benefits, despite their documented WTC-related illness.
“Civilian city employees who were exposed to the toxic cloud produced by the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11 and suffer from debilitating conditions, should be afforded the same 3/4 disability pension provided to the various City Uniformed employees who labored in the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in our country's history,” Mr, Goldberg said in a statement. “The 1/3 disability pension provided by current statutes for Civilian City employees does not insure that these severely disabled workers would have sufficient resources to lead a dignified life.”
Made Case For Parity
Last month Transport Workers Union Local 100 released a legislative memo in support of the measure and called for parity for civilian WTC responders, a number of whom have already gotten sick or died as a consequence of their time at the site.
“Civilian employees deserve the same retirement benefit as their uniformed counterparts without distinction or the creation of a two-tiered system of entitled and unentitled workers,” the union wrote.
The bill previously gained the backing of both District Council 37 and the Public Employees Federation.
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