City Council Member I. Daneek Miller has long pressed a pro-labor agenda that's informed by his prior career as a Bus Operator and the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1056.
As Chairman of the Council's Committee on the Civil Service and Labor, advancing that agenda, which includes improving workplace safety, has taken on a renewed urgency as the city attempts to regroup after the first wave of the coronavirus.
Kept EMS Shorthanded
Mr. Miller also is concerned that the de Blasio administration's continuation of the city salary relationships that pay veteran Emergency Medical Technicians $35,000 less a year than Firefighters has produced such a high attrition rate at EMS "that we did not have the workforce to support the pandemic response or any other crisis."
Early in the COVID-19 crisis, the city had the Federal Emergency Management Agency import 500 EMTs from around the country as the call volume spiked to record levels for several days.
The Queens Council Member has a bill pending that would give EMTs pay parity with Firefighters and a second measure to establish the actual attrition rate within EMS by annually tracking how many of its employees leave to become Firefighters.
"It is important for the truth to come to light on this," he said. "As we just saw, it is amazing the contribution the EMS workers make, but it is like pulling teeth to get people to acknowledge the value in what they do."
For Mr. Miller the COVID-19-related death of EMS Instructor Idris Bey, 60, hit close to home.
'We Were Soulmates'
"We grew up together," he said. "We converted to Islam together, we studied together. We were soulmates. We played Little League baseball together. At 12 years old you could tell he was brilliant and an out-of-the-box thinker."
According to the Council Member, Mr. Bey started his civil-service career with the Department of Correction, then spent 27 years with EMS. "He was in 9/11 but couldn't get the three-quarters pension to retire on, like police and fire get to do, so he continued to do what he loved as an EMS instructor at Fort Totten."
Councilman Miller believes the city has a lot to do to integrate social distancing across all its agencies to ensure the protection of its workforce and the general public who count on face-to-face interactions to access services and programs.
"I do a weekly call with the Office of Labor Relations and we are pretty cordial, but I have been pressing them to tell me how they are updating everybody on the latest bulletins and memorandums on COVID-19 and they are saying, 'We can't do that because we get it from the CDC and there are so many and we have so many agencies,' " he said. "And I am like 'negative'—every agency has a safety officer or an emergency-management officer who needs to be engaged in this process."
He continued. "In every work location there are work rules, terms and conditions they can post daily on the premises and it's just like when I was driving a bus and we had the seat-belt law and then cellphones, and you had to sign off that you would abide by the rules around these things. And if we didn't, we were breaking them."
Starts by Informing Them
"That's what we need now so people can be held accountable, but that starts by informing [workers] about the conditions and precautions related to COVID-19," Mr. Miller said.
And in high foot-traffic areas like welfare centers, he said the city must "make sure things are properly spaced out and all clients are required to wear masks."
But the Councilman also wants the city to undertake an independent review of the guidance it received from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, like the directive nurses got to continue to re-use N-95 masks for several days, when they were designed to be disposed of after each clinical encounter.
In early March, the New York State Nurses Association warned that the CDC's "crisis" directive watering down regulations to preserve the limited personal protective equipment supply risked exposing its members to the deadly virus, and spreading it more broadly in the community.
The union contends that is just what happened, resulting in health-care professionals becoming infected and some of them dying.
Wrong on Masks
Mr. Miller cited as another example of flawed CDC guidance its directive in early spring that members of the public should not wear a mask, an instruction it would ultimately reverse.
"It was wrong and ever-changing, and that was exactly the issues that came up when I was talking to city commissioners and they would say to me 'Well, this is what we got from the CDC,' " he said. "This is exactly the kind of thing we all lived through when the EPA said it was 'safe to breathe' in lower Manhattan after 9/11, and that's why we know better. It's super important we get things like this right."
Mr. Miller has also been concerned, as was the Municipal Labor Committee, that in the short term scores of grieving civil-service families would lose their health coverage after employees died of the coronavirus.
On May 10, Mayor de Blasio committed that the city would continue that coverage for the next 45 days.
"We have to maintain the continuity of their health-care coverage, because it is more than likely that family members were infected as well, and they are going to be incurring medical bills," Mr. Miller said.
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