Local 1180 News


On Health Coverage, Line-of-Duty Pensions

Council Bills to Aid Families of City Workers Who Die of Coronavirus

May 7, 2020


Under two bills moving through the City Council, the surviving family members of hundreds of municipal civil servants who died from COVID-19 would be entitled to benefits that previously were granted to the families of 9/11 World Trade Center responders who died. The civil-service package, sponsored by Council Civil Service and Labor Committee Chairman Daneek Miller, would entitle the surviving spouse and children of the deceased city employee to health coverage and classify as line of duty the death of that civil servant.

State Must Act on Pensions
The extension of health benefits to families of those who die of the coronavirus would build on legislation signed into law by Mayor de Blasio earlier this year for survivors of 9/11 first-responders who died from ailments related to their work at the World Trade Center site. A line-of duty-death that would provide upgraded pension benefits to survivors would require action by the State Legislature.

As of May 6, 245 municipal employees had lost their lives to COVID-19. They held a wide variety of civil-service titles and worked for the Department of Education, the Fire, Police and Sanitation departments, NYC Health + Hospitals and several other city agencies. Union leaders who testified during the May 4 virtual meeting of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor said the need for health-insurance coverage for survivors was particularly pressing because of the threat COVID-19 poses to family members who might be infected by employees. Detectives' Endowment Association President Paul DiGiacomo told the panel the pandemic represented "the darkest time in history for the rank of Detective" with five members lost in a two-week span to a "silent killer" that had "proven more dangerous and deadly than any terrorist attack or any criminal."

Those They Left Behind 
He continued, "Det. Cedric Dixon, a 23-year veteran of the NYPD was the first member of the department to be taken away by this virus. He leaves behind two daughters. Det. Robert Cardona, a 19-year veteran, who was stricken with cancer in the aftermath of 9/11, leaves behind an 8-year-old son. Det. Jack Polimeni, a 23-year veteran, leaves behind his wife Patricia. Det. Jeffrey Scalf, a 14-year veteran, leaves behind a wife and three daughters; and most heartbreaking of all, Detective Raymond Abear, a 19-year veteran of the department, leaves behind a wife and two babies. The eldest is 2 years old, and his sister is a five-month-old infant who will never know her father." "Extending health-care benefits for the surviving families of these five Detectives and the families of all other fellow municipal workers who have become casualties in the war against COVID-19, as well as classifying their deaths as line-of-duty deaths, is a moral obligation," Mr. DiGiacomo said.

Steve Banks, the city's First Deputy Commissioner for Labor Relations, testified that the de Blasio administration wanted to wait for Federal Government assistance.

'Feds Should Step Up'
"We believe that the appropriate initial forum for this topic is the U.S. Congress," he said. "COVID-19 is a nationwide issue, and cities and states throughout the nation need the Federal Government to step up and fund this benefit to compensate those who are left behind," Mr. Banks said. "The need for Federal intervention is particularly acute in light of the major budgetary challenges facing the city and many other municipalities in the aftermath of this pandemic." Mr. Miller countered that the need for health-care coverage for surviving families was urgent. "Before we come out of this pandemic, there are families that are going to find themselves without benefits because they lost a loved one," Mr. Miller said. He adding that the city should continue those benefits to the families "whose loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice."

Under questioning by Councilman Mr. Miller, Mr. Banks estimated that the annual cost of extending health-care coverage to surviving spouses or domestic partners would be $9,000 a year, with a $22,000 annual tab to extend benefits to a family.

Diagnosis Comes First
Mr. Banks also suggested that granting line-of duty-designation and benefits be contingent on "a medical determination" to "make a connection between the job and the illness." Presently, line-of-duty benefits vary widely depending on the title and uniformed status of the deceased.

"FDNY EMS and Fire Inspectors have lost six members to COVID-19 and one as a result of suicide," testified Oren Barzilay, president of District Council 37 Local 2507, which represents the Emergency Medical Technicians and Fire Prevention Inspectors. "We cannot forget our men and women that made the ultimate sacrifice. This city owes it to them and also to their family...whether it is fire, EMS, police, sanitation, [Metropolitan Transportation Authority], all essential workers should be recognized for sacrificing their life."

Gloria Middleton, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1180, which represents Administrative Managers in multiple city agencies as well as non-profit employees, told the Council, "It is our essential workers inside New York City hospitals who are admitting patients, handing out masks, cleaning and disinfecting, transporting patients, delivering meals, removing the deceased. Many of these are Local 1180 members, some are members of other unions, but it does not matter because all are essential workers who daily come face to face with COVID-19."

Backs Mayor's Stance
She continued, "It is the Federal Government's responsibility to step in and fund these proposals, so survivors of our essential workers who died while on the job serving the city, the state and the country are afforded the benefits they would have received had their spouses not sacrificed their own lives for the sake of others." A month earlier, in a Daily News op-ed article, Council Member Joseph Borelli, who chairs the Committee on Fire and Emergency Management, wrote, "For correction officers, as well as nearly every other municipal employee, the differences in benefits between a line-of-duty death and natural causes are stark. A line-of-duty benefit would grant a surviving spouse the lifetime pension of their deceased partner. If, on the other hand, COVID-19 is deemed a natural cause, a one-time insurance payout worth a fraction of that amount would be given. This would never make up for the loss of a breadwinner's salary and future pension benefits."

Across the country, civil servants have been consistently been represented in the ranks of the 70,000-plus Americans who died of the coronavirus. On April 14, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler of Manhattan, U.S. Rep. Max Rose of Staten Island, and Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey introduced the Public Safety Officer Pandemic Response Act that would guarantee compensation to first-responders or their survivors for COVID-19-related disabilities or deaths. In the U.S. Senate, New York's Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer have introduced the Safeguarding America's First Responders Act, helping victims' families expedite receiving survivor benefits.