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AIDING FAMILIES OF ‘UNSUNG HEROES’: Mayor de Blasio signs into law a bill providing health benefits to family members of civilian employees who die as a result of an illness they contracted working at the World Trade Center site or the Fresh Kills Landfill. Looking on was City Council Civil Service and Labor Committee Chairman Daneek Miller, who called it ‘the least we can do [to give] municipal workers the peace of mind they so richly deserve.’

The family members of non-uniformed city civil servants who die as a result of a World Trade Center condition they contracted from their service at the site or at the Fresh Kills Landfill will now be entitled to health-care coverage paid for by the city.

“We all know on 9/11, and in the days after 9/11, of the heroism of so many of our first-responders, but there are many, many who served us whose stories have not been told,” Mayor de Blasio said at a Feb. 11 bill-signing ceremony. “There are so many unsung heroes as well. Traffic Agents, who helped vehicles to move around the WTC in all that chaos in the weeks and months after.”

Helped in Recovery Effort

He continued, “Sanitation and Corrections Officers went to Ground Zero, worked the pile, went to Fresh Kills, did the work to try and help families recover the remains of their loved ones. Auto mechanics who helped keep the vehicles running that were needed for the recovery effort.”

The Mayor said that his administration estimated that there were 85 families that were currently eligible for the new benefit but that there could be as many as 5,000 other families that would qualify. The initiative covers spouses, domestic partners and children, and until now was limited to the families of police and firefighters.

Council Member I. Daneek Miller, the bill’s prime sponsor and chair of the Council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee, said, “This is the least we can do [to give] municipal workers the peace of mind they so richly deserve, knowing that this city will provide for their families’ health-care needs.”

nespoli

CORRECTING AN INEQUITY: Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association President Harry Nespoli said the new law extending health coverage that previously was available only to the families of cops and firefighters whose deaths were caused by their time at Ground Zero was a matter of fairness. He recalled being at the site on 9/11 ‘and municipal workers were all over the place, and it didn’t matter if you had a uniform or not; it was about going down there to help the City of New York,’ he said.

‘Uniform Didn’t Matter’

“It’s important that all municipal workers get recognized for what they do,” said Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association and chair of the Municipal Labor Committee. “I was down there on 9/11 that day and municipal workers were all over the place, and it didn’t matter if you had a uniform or not; it was about going down there to help the City of New York.”

After the ceremony, Mr. Miller said in an interview that the legislation was part of a multi-faceted effort to help municipal workers and their families navigate the challenges of living with a WTC health condition.

He said one proposal he’s working on would help afflicted civil servants covered by the New York City Employees’ Retirement System get a disability pension if they had already been awarded one by the Federal Social Security Administration. “We just have to coordinate these benefits” between the different bureaucracies, he said.

He added that he was also taking a look at civil servants who were not at the WTC site but whose employment assignment required they be in the WTC zone, which includes government offices and schools south of Houston St. and into western Brooklyn.

Raised by UFT

“The United Federation of Teachers brought this to my attention in the case of all of the Teachers who taught at Stuyvesant High School” a few blocks from the WTC site and at other 28 schools in the zone, Mr. Miller said. “We are trying to extend this universe to include these Teachers and also be mindful of the 19,000 public-school kids that are now young adults and were told it was safe to go back to school.”

Under the new law, the health-care benefit for WTC 9/11 surviving family members will be extended to all municipal civil servants who are killed in the line of duty.

In the past, that benefit was given only to the families of police officers or firefighters, and extended to civilians on a case-by-case basis.

According to Joe Puleo, president of DC 37’s Local 983, that was the route the union had to take in the case of the Oct. 22 death of DOT employee Eduardo Calle Abril, 44, who was struck and killed by a dump truck in front of 521 East 88th St. near Gracie Mansion.

Mr. Calle left behind his wife and teenage daughter.

“This legislation is extremely important because now we won’t have to go to beg and plead every time a tragedy like this happens,” Mr. Puleo said in a phone interview.


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