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Court victory reinstates disabled city employees

Stephon Johnson | 4/3/2014, 11:47 a.m.
Disabled city workers laid off by the Bloomberg administration are now able to return to work after a court decision.
DC37

Disabled city workers laid off by the Bloomberg administration are now able to return to work after a court decision.

District Council 37, the largest public union in New York City, won both a legal and arbitration victory involving almost a dozen members of DC 37 Clerical-Administrative Local 1549 who are 55-A employees (disabled) with the Administration of Children’s Services and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Those 55-A workers, who were laid off in 2011 and 2012, can now go back to work.

According to the union’s grievance, the city violated its contract with the union and New York City Human Rights Law when it laid off the workers by failing to include them on the recall list. The reinstated workers will be given back pay and have their seniority fully restored.

DC 37 Assistant General Counsel Jesse Gribben spoke to the AmNews about the case, compensation, seniority and the actions of the Bloomberg administration.

“What provided impetus for settlement was the union victory in the arbitration process,” Gribben told the AmNews. “That’s what provoked the city to be serious about reinstating employees.

“The way it goes is when you do an economic layoff, you get rid of all provisional employees—those who didn’t take or pass a civil service exam—first,” said Gribben. “But what was in dispute was what happens next, and the city took the position that after those employees were laid off, the next people to go were 55-A program participants.

“Our position was, ‘That’s absurd,’” said Gribben. “They [55-A workers] don’t have to take the civil service exam because their disability—whether it’s Asperger’s [syndrome], autism or being wheelchair-bound—exempted them from it. “

Nevertheless, the case is a significant victory for the union, and it wasn’t lost on Migna Ortiz, one of the employees affected by the Bloomberg administration’s layoff of 55-A employees.

“I can’t be any more grateful for getting my job back with the city,” Ortiz told the AmNews. “It was really stressful. I was hurt and I went through so much. Losing the job … the pension was being withheld. Just to feel that you know you’re going back to the city because you were happy there is unimaginable.”

Another 55-A situation involving disabled former employees in New York City’s Department of Finance (a story that the AmNews broke last year) is still pending. For now, Gribben is working on the return of Administration of Children’s Services and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene employees.

“The clock is running, so whenever they go back, they’re gonna get paid back as if they’re getting paid on May 2011,” said Gribben. “Obviously, we’re anxious to see them back to work. To a large extent, their jobs gave them validation and self-worth, and these are very much model employees.”