A Traffic Enforcement Agent and 9/11 first-responder who went public with her nightmarish experience with the city’s bureaucracy in her battle for paid sick leave, has died from her World Trade Center-related cancer.
Her testimony was credited by colleagues with helping them win unlimited sick time for non-uniformed city personnel suffering with diseases contracted while working in the toxic atmosphere created by the Trade Center’s destruction.
Kept Working With Cancer
Traffic Enforcement Agent Linda Mercer, a 30-year veteran, suffered from an aggressive form of cancer that spread from her breast to her liver, but worked throughout her arduous treatment for fear of losing her job. Her story, which was widely reported, put a spotlight on thousands of other civil servants, who unlike cops and firefighters did not have unlimited sick time to recuperate while being treated.
Ms. Mercer, 60, was a member of Local 983 of District Council 37 and had two children.
“Linda was a truly remarkable and selfless woman,” wrote Matt McCauley, her attorney. “Her legacy will be as someone who always took care of others before herself, from raising her children to protecting those of the City of New York in her role with the NYPD.”
He continued, “Most recently she played an enormous role with John Feal in securing 9/11 sick benefits for all New York City employees. She was proud yet humble about that accomplishment.”
Mr. McCauley added the NYPD had done everything it could within the existing law to help Ms. Mercer navigate a challenging prognosis.
Launched Battle for Bill
After her account and that of similarly situated Emergency Medical Technicians was publicized, a bipartisan effort in Albany, led by then-State Sen. Martin Golden, resulted in the introduction of legislation to grant unlimited sick time to civilian municipal employees. The measure was blocked by last-minute objections from the de Blasio administration.
DC 37 Locals 2507 and 3621, which represent the EMTs and their officers, respectively, persisted. A similar bill for all 9/11 responders who were state employees or local municipal workers outside of New York City and had certified WTC conditions was signed into law by Governor Cuomo in 2018.
In addition to the battle to extend unlimited sick time to non-uniformed WTC responders, 9/11 advocates took aim at the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, which had a track record of denying WTC-related disability cases, forcing ailing civil servants to sue.
On Oct. 23, 2018, the de Blasio administration reached an agreement with DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido that was to act as a template for the rest of the city’s civilian workforce enrolled in other unions, as well as for city managers.
But even after the execution of the agreement, follow-up was required by the ailing Ms. Mercer, who appeared before two City Council committees last December to press the case for civilian WTC responders battling dozens of different cancers.
“As of this day I still don’t have unlimited sick time,” she told the Council hearing. “Come Jan. 19 I have to go back and do more chemo, and my doctor said it is going to be a heavy dose and that I won’t be able to come to work. So, I am asking you all to help me.”
Retired FDNY Paramedic Gary Smiley, a 9/11 first-responder, is the WTC health ombudsman for Local 2507, which has 454 active employees and 500 retired ones with WTC health issues, including 105 with cancer.
“Linda Mercer was a warrior,” Mr. Smiley recalled in a phone interview. “The first time I met her was on the steps of City Hall and I was overwhelmed by her compassion and commitment to the battle we are in, and still in.”
“Linda was a champion in her own right,” said Mr. Feal, a 9/11 responder and founder of the FealGood Foundation. “She suffered from 9/11 cancer, but she also suffered because of the incompetence at City Hall and NYCERS, and shame on those who let Linda Mercer not only die from 9/11 cancer, but painfully because of what they put her through. This woman deserved better.”
Offering Further Aid
She was eventually covered by the benefit she fought for, and this past Sept. 11 the de Blasio administration announced it would pursue legislation to pick up the cost of health-care coverage for the surviving family members of all city employees who die of WTC-certified diseases.
The administration estimates the measure, if adopted by the Council, would cover 5,000 city workers across several agencies.
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