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Firefighters’ union announces lawsuit against Council speaker

Stephon Johnson | 7/16/2015, 11 a.m.
New York City’s firefighters will have their voices heard one way or another.
Black FDNY firefighters

New York City’s firefighters will have their voices heard one way or another.

Standing in front of the New York State Supreme Court building in lower Manhattan Tuesday, the United Firefighters Association of New York announced a lawsuit against New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. They accuse her and her office of obstructing debate and open government and fostering a lack of transparency in the Council.

The UFA wants a public hearing on the low disability benefits for new hires. In the lawsuit, UFA officials say that despite New York City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley sponsoring a resolution in 2014 and resubmitting a new one Jan. 14 for legislation, the Council leadership refused to hold a hearing within the required 30 days after submission. The lawsuit also states that 10 weeks later, Viverito’s chief of staff informed Crowley that she’s not the principal Council member on the home-rule request because another Council member (who the speaker didn’t identify) submitted the exact same bill earlier.

UFA officials say the speaker’s office has refused to identify the Council member to them.

“The speaker of the New York City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, decided unilaterally to stop us from having a debate that was proposed by Elizabeth Crowley,” said UFA President Steve Cassidy at the news conference. Cassidy also said he doesn’t believe the Council speaker’s office’s story that another Council member took over the legislation and put it to the side.

“I don’t believe that happened,” said Cassdiy. “The speaker of the Council denied us a hearing simply because she doesn’t believe in the issue.”

Back in June 2009, then New York Gov. David Paterson vetoed the New York City Firefighter and Police Tier II pension and disability protections, which affected future hires of the FDNY and NYPD. Between June 2009 and December 2012, a court order froze new hires. As of January of 2013, 1,700 new firefighters have joined the ranks. Because of Paterson’s veto, any firefighter hired by the FDNY since the aforementioned date, who’s seriously injured on the job, would receive disability protection to the amount of $27 a day based on a probationary (rookie) firefighters’ salary.

“The reality is that the speaker of the Council is allowed to say to other elected officials, to the UFA and to the citizens of New York that ‘on an issue, if I don’t agree with you, I’m gonna tell you that somebody else is in charge,’” said Cassidy. “‘And because somebody else is in charge, you don’t get to have a debate or a discussion.’”

UFA officials want a restoration of the old disability pension, which consists of 75 percent of the final average salary, not reduced by Social Security and disability benefits, protection for New York City’s emergency responder for more than 40 years and presumptive protection from stroke, heart attacks and cancer that current older hires of the FDNY and NYPD receive.

UFA officials also said that the speaker’s office unlawfully and repeatedly denied their general counsel’s Freedom of Information Law request and an appeal to provide the name of the Council member who submitted the paperwork before Crowley did.