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'YOUR LOVED ONES GAVE ALL FOR US': Mayor de Blasio ended his neutral stance on a bill that would provide line-of-duty death benefits to the families of city workers who die of the coronavirus, saying, 'This horrible crisis came out of nowhere, grabbed this city, and these valiant city employees kept fighting, no matter what.'

Mayor de Blasio May 19 called on state legislators to pass legislation extending line-of-duty death benefits to the families of all city workers who lost their lives to COVID-19.

"Two-hundred-seventy New York City employees have been lost to the coronavirus, and it is so important for us to say to their families that we will be there for you, not just in words but in deeds," he said at his daily briefing. "We owe that to you. Your loved one gave their all for us. We will be there for you."

Ends Wait-and-See

The Mayor had previously said he wanted to see what the Federal Government's response would be before supporting such a designation for civil servants who perished while on active duty during the pandemic. Both the city and state are facing huge budget deficits due to the impact of the coronavirus, and Governor Cuomo has been unwilling in the past to approve pension legislation that would require funding by the state.

Earlier this month, Mr. de Blasio, at the request of the Municipal Labor Committee, extended health benefits for 45 days for the surviving families of civil servants killed by the virus.

He said that while there were "very good steps" being taken by Congress to "help first-responders" it was not enough."So, I have come to the conclusion that the right thing to do to help the families that have lost loved ones is to give them line-of-duty benefits. This horrible crisis came out of nowhere, grabbed this city, and these valiant city employees kept fighting no matter what."

The Mayor praised the advocacy of Council Members I. Daneek Miller, chair of the Civil Service and Labor Committee, and Joseph Borelli, chair of the Committee on Fire and Emergency Management.

'Stood at the Forefront'

"Our public servants have stood at the forefront of the government response to COVID-19 with great courage, and at great personal sacrifice to preserve our health, safety, and quality of life," Mr. Miller said in a statement. 

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, chair of the Committee on Civil Service and Pensions, and Assemblyman Peter Abate, who heads the Committee on Government Employees, have introduced legislation similar to that enacted for 9/11 first-responders to establish a COVID-19 presumption for civil servants who are killed or disabled by the virus.

"These are men and women who lost their lives in service to the City of New York," Vincent Alvarez, president of the AFL-CIO New York City Central Labor Council, said in a statement. "Taking care of the families they leave behind is one small way that we can honor them and their enormous sacrifice."

"We want to thank the Mayor for doing the right thing on behalf of the families of the 143 District Council 37 members who lost their lives during this pandemic," said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido. He added that the amounts surviving families would receive would vary depending on job titles and salaries, the designation would bring on average an additional $48,000 per family and continued health insurance for the spouse and surviving children until they are 26 years old.

PBA: Can't Celebrate Yet

"We are glad that Mayor de Blasio has finally come around to recognizing the heroes of this crisis," said PBA President Patrick J. Lynch in a statement. "But it's a long way from a press conference to legislation, so we will hold our applause until we see something in writing."

He continued, "We need to make sure that every hero's family receives the support they deserve. We also need to guarantee protection for any police officer who suffers long-term health effects from their exposure."

Gloria Middleton,who as president of Communications Workers Local 1180 represents Administrative Managers throughout city government, said of the afflicted workers and their survivors, "They absolutely deserve this. No one expected the family member who went to work to die from this, but in the beginning, there was insufficient [personal protective equipment] and there was not enough testing."

She continued, "To see a city shut down by a virus was to see a kind of war we have not seen before and there was no game plan on how to fight it. It was like being on an airplane with no place to land."

Local 1180 lost eight members in the pandemic.

Log Work Assignments

Union leaders emphasized that their members should keep records of their various assignments during the pandemic to prove that they qualify for the benefit.

Detectives' Endowment Association President Paul DiGiacomo, whose union has lost at least five members in the pandemic, said it was vital to document assignments and "where you might have been exposed to the virus."

"The DEA has lost dozens of Detectives to 9/11 cancers, and we want our members to learn from past mistakes when it comes to documentation," he said.

Mr. Garrido had similar advice for DC 37 members who can't work remotely in a wide variety of city titles. 

Concern About the Unknown

"If you have tested positive for COVID-19 and been quarantined, you should fill out a New York State Workers Compensation C-3 [injured on the job] form," Mr. Garrido said. "Even if you have recuperated, we don't know the long-term health consequences of this virus."

Ms. Middleton also believed there could still be unforeseen issues for her members who were part of the pandemic response.

"I think we can expect that there will be a lot of things that pop up, just like there were after 9/11 after we were told by the EPA the air was safe to breathe," she said. "Certainly, you can expect post-traumatic stress syndrome for our health-care workers who saw so much."

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