Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/246 Wed, 18 Oct 2017 22:24:40 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Killing of FDNY EMT Spotlights Issues for Unsung Profession http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6839:killing-of-fdny-emt-spotlights-issues-for-unsung-profession http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6839:killing-of-fdny-emt-spotlights-issues-for-unsung-profession ;fdny ambulance and hats

(photos: @FDNY)


Of the city’s various uniformed workers, some dominate media attention and public awareness. Along with the historical presence and mythology of firefighters and police officers, corrections officers have been in the news recently, mostly for the wrong reasons, while New Yorkers rely on sanitation workers for a basic essential of city life.

Public soul-searching over questions about broken windows policing and the future of the Riker’s Island jail also have many New Yorkers thinking about police and corrections officers, with ongoing policy discussions now moving into a city election year.

Yet one uniformed group, which like the others has a unique set of responsibilities, labor issues, and policy priorities, has found itself largely locked out of the conversation, even as its 4,700 members continue to risk their own well-being and save lives on a daily basis: FDNY emergency medical service (EMS) workers, which include EMTs and Paramedics.

The service came suddenly into the limelight on March 16 when Yadira Arroyo, 44, a 14-year veteran of the FDNY EMT and mother of five, was killed, allegedly by a 25-year-old Bronx man who commandeered her ambulance and ran her over.

“The primary concerns have not changed for many years,” said Izzy Miranda, president of Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics & Fire Inspectors Local 2507, in an interview a few days after Arroyo was killed on the job. “We get resistance from the administration no matter which one it is. We’re truly not recognized by the administration as a true uniformed service.”

His members’ primary concern is pay, Miranda said. Base salary for an FDNY EMT after five years on the job is $47,685. A firefighter, meanwhile, can expect to take home $85,292 in base pay after five years, the same as an NYPD officer after 5.5 years.

“They have to work overtime, second and third jobs…We lose the best quality people,” said Miranda, explaining that members turn to private sector jobs like nursing because they cannot afford to live in the city on EMT pay.

That’s the case for FDNY rescue medic Usman Rahyab, an 11-year veteran of the department, who had worked with Arroyo and described her as someone who “sincerely loved her job.”

“I have to teach on my days off, I have to work overtime,” Rayhab said. “I teach paramedics to make enough money to support myself and my son…My own barber makes more money than I do, and he cuts my hair.”

Rayhab also painted a picture of an agency with a multitude of internal budgetary and management issues, and a punishing work culture that drives out talented medical workers.

“We’re constantly, constantly running out of essential equipment. We’re allowed to go out there and respond and not have that. That’s because of the budget,” he said, citing the example of CPAP devices, which can prevent a patient from having to be intubated. “Right now, at this time, I do not have any in my truck. They still send me out…I shouldn’t be told ‘do what you have to do, do the best with what you have,’” he added.

In an email, Frank Gribbon, a spokesperson for the FDNY, denied there is any shortage of the devices, writing “I'm told we do not have a shortage of CPAP devices - plenty in stock.”

A report by the Citizens Budget Commission in December 2015 calculated that just 13% of the FDNY’s budget for fiscal 2015 was allocated for EMS, despite at least 75% of incidents to which the agency responded being medical in nature. The city’s EMS was moved from the Health and Hospitals Corporation to the FDNY in 1996 in an attempt to increase coordination between emergency services and reduce redundancies.

Gribbon said that “the budget for EMS has never been greater, having been increased by nearly $40 million two years ago by the Mayor” and specified that the cost of running EMS was $600 million, with $180 million recovered through insurance billing. He did not answer a question about how the EMS operating budget was calculated internally.

Rayhab also outlined functional and cultural problems within the agency, claiming that members were stretched so thin they could go 12 hours without a single break, even to eat. If discovered eating at an unsanctioned time, he said, they could lose “four or five days worth of pay.”

When paramedics get hurt, Rayhab said, “you’re either going to recover, you’re going to get demoted, or you’re going to lose your job. There’s nothing else. And there’s a high injury rate.”

When an EMS worker does become injured to the point that they cannot continue to work, that can be an uncertain process.

Miranda, the union president, recently held a rally on the steps of City Hall with State Senator Marty Golden (R-Brooklyn) and Assemblymember Peter Abbate (D-Brooklyn) to introduce a bill that would allow New York state courts to grant disability pensions to EMS, corrections, and sanitation workers if they disagreed with a pension denial from the New York City Employees' Retirement System (NYCERS).

Currently, courts can only remand cases back the board. In a phone interview, Sen. Golden said “[EMS workers] fall, mess up their back, their head, they cannot function as an EMS, they’re forced into disability. They have to go back and forth between the panel and the supreme court if they’re denied. This takes time, and it takes money. It can be two years and $10,000 before they’re done.”

Golden also worries about the physical safety of EMS workers. In 2015 he introduced a bill, which passed and was signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, removing a requirement that an assault on an EMS worker had to intend to obstruct their official duties for it to be considered assault in the second degree, a class D felony.

For Golden, who was a New York City police officer in the 1970s and early ‘80s, the death of Arroyo is part of a larger pattern of renewed violence against uniformed responders and peace officers. “I remember people throwing garbage cans on firetrucks and EMS vehicles,” Golden said of his time in the NYPD, adding, “it seems to be back to that. They want to attack anyone in uniform.”

Another point of contention is the EMS service’s own leadership. As opposed to their firefighter counterparts, the appointment and promotion of EMS supervisors does not require a competitive civil service examination, a situation Miranda said does not afford EMTs ample opportunity to advance. Rahyab was more blunt: “they promote their buddies…Our members do not look up to the EMS administration.” Golden has introduced a bill in the Senate to require the examinations.

On the municipal front, the EMS workers union has a few specific interests, starting with contract negotiations that will bring their compensation more in line with their uniformed colleagues. Miranda said that their next contract negotiations will begin around April of next year, but his union is open to starting conversations with the city now.

Miranda is also pushing a bill, introduced by Queens Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, who is chair of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services, that would require bulletproof vests for some EMS workers “meet certain safety requirements related to their warranty, history of use, and fit” and “meet standards for bullet resistance developed by the National Institute of Justice.” The bill is designed to upgrade vests that were issued to EMS workers under the Giuliani administration in the late 1990s.

Crowley said she was also advocating for funding for the vests in the city budget, regardless of whether the bill passes in the Council. “If the [fire] department believes it’s important to give every graduating EMT a bulletproof vest, why are they not upgrading that vest after five years, when it’s no longer effective?” she said.

Crowley also intends to introduce legislation that will require public reporting of so-called vital statistics, internal figures that provide more detail than the department’s annual reporting on fire fatalities. She mentioned that these statistics showed that lives saved by EMS were down year-over-year.

“Unfortunately, many of the calls they get now are about overdoses…So naloxone use should be part of the vital statistics,” she said as an example of what could be included. Echoing the irritation of EMS workers, she said that it “frustrated me in the past, and it frustrates me today that they’re treated like a second class public safety arm.”

yadira arroyo emtBoth Rahyab and Miranda lamented the lack of attention that their profession’s struggles have received, but hoped that if there was one good thing to come out of the recent tragedy, it would be increased awareness.

“It’s a shame that it has to take a tragedy, one of our sisters making the supreme sacrifice, for these issues to even be looked at,” Miranda said.

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Killing of FDNY EMT Spotlights Issues for Unsung Profession Tue, 28 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, Dec 7-11 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6031:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-dec-7-11 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6031:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-dec-7-11 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday 

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio signs legislation creating the city's new Department of Veterans' Services, via Joe Bello, @NYMetroVets

BdB vets joe bello

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. Skelos Guilty: Former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam Skelos were found guilty on eight counts Friday. They will be sentenced in March. [Read: Tenant Activists Trace Road to Corruption Trials, Eye Elusive Reform]

2. Security Guards for Private Schools: On Monday, the City Council passed a controversial bill to provide public funding to private and religious schools to pay for security guards. $19.8 million will be spent to place at least one security guard at every private school in New York City with at least 300 students that wants one. Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign the bill into law.

3. Cuomo’s Common Core Overhaul: A task force created by Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a report Thursday which found that the state made a number of mistakes in its implementation of Common Core learning standards and recommended reducing the tendency to “teach to a test,” giving shorter tests, and not linking test results to teacher evaluations until the 2018-2019 school year.

4. Housing Developments: The Staten Island Borough Board became the fifth to vote against Mayor de Blasio’s zoning amendment proposals on Thursday, adding to the significant criticism the plan has received from community and borough boards. Creating more affordable housing is a signature issue for the mayor determined to make New York City more equal, and de Blasio's administration is now prepared to devise a new strategy to regain momentum and secure support for a plan they believe has been poorly understood. On Thursday, AARP endorsed the mayor’s plans (it has 750,000 members in New York City), adding to two significant union endorsements the plans have recently received. [Read: Mayor & Speaker: Rezoning Plans Will Change Before Council Vote & Next Steps for the Mayor’s Controversial Zoning Proposals]

5. Public Housing Problem: A New York City Department of Investigation report found that the NYPD’s “systematic failure” to communicate required information to the city’s public housing authority, NYCHA, is partially responsible for the disproportionately high crime rates that have plagued public housing projects. In response to the report, the NYPD will create an interactive database to improve information sharing about criminal activity in public housing with NYCHA officials.

THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:

  • 4,000-plus inmates are currently in solitary confinement in New York, despite vows by officials to limit its use, the Daily News reports.
  • 4,747 stop-and-frisks were recorded in New York City in July, August, and September - the lowest quarter since the numbers were first released in 2002, according to NYPD statistics.
  • 93% decrease in the number of stop-and-frisks between 2011 and 2014, according to a report released by the New York Civil Liberties Union.
  • 797 fatal drug overdoses were recorded by the city Health Department in 2014, the most since 2006, the New York Post reports.
  • 20% increase in annual state spending for nonprofits is needed in order to fund a $15 per hour wage floor for nonprofit human services workers, according to a report released by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Fiscal Policy Institute and the Human Services Council.
  • 75% of incidents the FDNY responded to in 2014 were medical-related calls, and only 5% were fire-related, though a vast majority of the FDNY's resources are devoted to staffing fire units, according to a report from the Citizens Budget Commission.
  • $12 million will be added to the city’s budget to increase job training programs for homeless individuals in the shelter system in 31 shelters across the 5 boroughs, the Daily News reports.
  • 6,217,621 people rode the subways on October 29, 2015, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority - about 50,000 more than the previous record reached last year.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

It was a good week for supporters of raising the minimum wage, as a state appeals board upheld Governor Cuomo’s planned increase to a $15 per hour minimum wage for fast food workers, disputing arguments that certain factors weren’t adequately analyzed before making the decision to raise the wage.

It was a bad week for Anthony Mangone, a former attorney whose cooperation aided in the conviction of three New York state senators, who was sentenced to 18 months behind bars this week after a judge said the “dirty lawyer” had committed crimes too serious to escape incarceration.

THE FLASH:

Around this time 40 years ago, on December 9, 1975, President Gerald Ford signed a $2.3 billion seasonal loan authorization to prevent New York City from having to default.

Around this time 74 years ago, on December 7, 1941, in the panic that ensued after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Japanese nationals living in New York were rounded up by FBI agents and held on Ellis Island. They were later transferred to internment camps for the remainder of the war.

Around this time 22 years ago, on December 7, 1993, Colin Ferguson opened fire on a Long Island Rail Road train, killing six passengers and wounding 19 others. Days later, a New York Times editorial called for stronger gun control laws in response to the murders, pointing to the ease with which Ferguson obtained a handgun in California, which had one of the country's stricter gun laws at the time.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

Resignation Highlights City Council Gender Imbalance, by Ben Max

Cuomo Urged to Sign Executive Transparency Bills Before Looming Deadline, by David Howard King

Next Steps for The Mayor's Controversial Zoning Proposals, Christian Zhang

Tenant Activists Trace Road to Corruption Trials, Eye Elusive Reform, by David Howard King

Little-Known Commission Expands Access to City Government, by Meg O’Connor

Hearing to Examine ‘Efficacy’ of City Response to ‘Homelessness Crisis’, by Ryan Brady

In Zoning Amendment, One Size Does Not Fit All, by Council Member Donovan Richards (opinion)

Harmful Legal Reform Is Not an Ethics Solution, by Joanne Doroshow (opinion)

Give Police Tools to Reduce Arrest and Improve Community Health, by Chelsea Davis (opinion)

Public Money Is For Public Schools, by Ayishah Irvin (opinion)

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

Mayor de Blasio spoke with Errol Louis on NY1's Inside City Hall on Wednesday to discuss his first two years in office, and spoke about the city’s homelessness crisis, his affordable housing plan, and more.

An in-depth report by ProPublica’s Marcelo Rochabrun and Cezary Podkul reveals that city and state regulators stood by as developer Two Trees Management disregarded laws requiring rent stabilization in exchange for the large property tax break it received.

Politico New York’s Bill Hammond writes that Cuomo is making excuses about not doing anything to stop Albany’s ongoing culture of corruption, and argues that there are many glaring weaknesses left in New York’s anti-corruption laws.

 

***
NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

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by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

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The Week That Was in New York Politics, Dec 7-11 Fri, 11 Dec 2015 18:25:28 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 23 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6002:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-november-23 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6002:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-november-23 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Thanksgiving week will see just a few days of political activity, but the beginning of the week is looking busy. Highlights include closing arguments in Sheldon Silver's corruption trial; the continuation of Dean Skelos' corruption trial; the release of the Public Advocate's "worst landlord list"; several City Council hearings and a full-body "Stated Meeting"; two public meetings of the city's commission on elected official compensation; and more. See our day-by-day rundown below.

First, in case you haven't seen some of our most recent reporting, a few highlights:

[To read more of the latest from Gotham Gazette, click here; to subscribe to our newsletters, click here]

Mayor Bill de Blasio had no public schedule Saturday. On Sunday, the mayor, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro, and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson observed "an active shooter drill in Lower Manhattan." After that, the mayor was delivered remarks at Church of God of Prophecy in the Bronx, where he was hosted by City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, among others.

On Monday, de Blasio "will deliver remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony for Hunter's Point South Phase II" at noon; "host a press conference to make an announcement related to mental health" with First Lady Chirlane McCray at 2 p.m. at CUNY Hunter College - Silberman School of Social Work; and hold a media availability at about 3 p.m. nearby the school.

 

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At the City Council on Monday, November 23:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Public Safety and the Committee on Transportation will meet to hear the introduction of several bills regarding unmanned aviation vehicles (drones). They will focus on regulation, registration requirements and authorization of use.
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Youth Services will meet to discuss several new bills that would require training for certain employees in treating runaway, homeless, and sexually exploited youths, and amend the requirement date for the annual report on sexually exploited children.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Education will meet for oversight on Department of Education’s efforts to help struggling schools. Schools chancellor Carmen Fariña will testify.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet to hear a series of new bills that would require successive employers of buildings to retain workers for a transitional time period and extend protections for displaced building service workers to food service workers.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Environmental Protection will meet to hear a new bill that would require the identification of geothermal systems and buildings eligible for them, as well as registration for the people allowed to install such systems.

On Monday at 8 a.m., The Food Bank for New York will release a new report on the state of hunger and food networks in New York City. The “legislative breakfast” and report will examine the effects of federal cuts to SNAP cuts. Margarette Purvis, President and CEO, Food Bank For New York City; Steven Banks, Commissioner, New York City Human Resources Administration; Triada Stampas, Vice President For Research & Public Affairs, Food Bank For New York City, and “elected officials from throughout New York City” are expected.

At 8:30 a.m. The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce and Business Forward will host a business leader forum to discuss the effects of severe climate change on the restaurant industry.

At 9 a.m. Monday in Long Island City, City Council "Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer will be joined by several New Yorkers who have applied and have not been selected for a variety of the City's affordable housing development lotteries throughout the five boroughs. Together, Council Member Van Bramer and these New Yorkers in need will express why they believe Airbnb needs to be held accountable for allowing tax-subsidized affordable housing units to be posted as illegal hotels on their website."

Later, Van Bramer will join the mayor for the aforementioned Hunter's Point groundbreaking.

At 11 a.m. in Foley Square, Public Advocate Letitia James "will hold a tenant rally and release the 2015 Worst Landlord Watchlist. Following the rally, Public Advocate James will visit Brooklyn Housing Court to ensure tenants are aware of their rights and then tour one of the buildings on the Worst Landlord Watchlist.".

At 11:15 a.m. Monday, State Senator Liz Krueger, together with community leaders and elected officials, will gather at the City Hall for a press conference which will urge Governor Andrew Cuomo to transition New York off of coal power by 2020. Senator Liz Krueger will be joined by State Senator Brad Hoylman; Assembly Members Brian Kavanagh, Rebecca Seawright and Jo Anne Simon; and City Council Members Donovan Richards and Dan Garodnick.
[Read Sen. Krueger's new op-ed on the subject: Time for New York to Cut the Coal]

At 12:45 p.m. Monday, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, joined with Unite Here 100, will rally for food service worker retention, supporting a bill that expands upon the 2002 Displaced Building Service Worker Protection Act to include food service workers from being fired from work after a new owner takes over a business. A Council hearing will take place at 1 p.m.

On Monday at 2 p.m., Gov. Cuomo will be at the Jacob Javits Center to participate "in New York State's Annual Thanksgiving Food Donation Drive with volunteers and members of the New York National Guard."

At 5 p.m. the city’s Quadrennial Advisory Committee on elected officials’ compensation will hold its first of two community hearings to gather public feedback about its work. There is a state pay commission set to convene soon as well, we'll have details on that upcoming. [Read our recent look at the work ahead for the commission and the question of whether New York elected officials deserve a raise]

At 6 p.m. Monday, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Red Tape Commission will hold a Staten Island hearing for business owners and entrepreneurs, part of the ongoing initiative to remake the government into a partner to businesses instead of being an “obstacle to growth”.

Also at 6 p.m. the Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will hold a public hearing on East New York community planning.

Tuesday
At the State Legislature on Tuesday: at noon, the Assembly Standing Committee on Agriculture will convene for “Oversight of the SFY 2015-2016 State Budget for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.”

At the City Council on Tuesday, November 24th:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Finance will meet on a variety of topics.
  • At 1 p.m. the City Council Stated Meeting will be held - and as usual, it will be prefaced by the Speaker’s pre-stated press conference, at 12:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, "Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will appear live on CNN's New Day to discuss ThriveNYC: The Mental Health Roadmap for All," at about 6:50 a.m. Later in the morning, "the Mayor will create and deliver food packages with Joel Berg of NYC Coalition Against Hunger." At about 11:45 a.m., "the Mayor will deliver remarks on hunger and food insecurity in New York City." At about 4 p.m., "the Mayor will join bi-partisan local elected officials – including Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Congressman Dan Donovan and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez – to host a press conference to highlight the need for increased federal transportation funding as New Yorkers prepare for holiday weekend travel."

On Tuesday, November 24th, Council Member Andy King will offer Free Healthcare Enrollment and Legal Services to Bronx Residents. In cooperation with MetroPlus and New York Legal Assistance Group the event will help residents sign up for health care and legal services.

At 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at "NYC Coalition Against Hunger Annual Flagship Event."

At 5 p.m. Tuesday the NYC Quadrennial Advisory Board will hold another community hearing on compensation for elected officials. [Read our recent look at the work ahead for the commission and the question of whether New York elected officials deserve a raise]

On Tuesday at 7 p.m. Public Advocate Tish James will host an African Immigrant "Talk to Tish" Town Hall in the Bronx; and at 8:30 p.m. James will attend the Bayside Hills Civic Association General Meeting in Oakland Gardens.

On Tuesday evening in Brooklyn, school district 15, which includes parts of Sunset Park, Kensington, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, and Red Hook, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will hold a town hall "from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at P.S. 516...Local elected officials including City Councilman Carlos Menchaca, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz and State Sen. Jesse Hamilton are expected to attend and answer questions from the public from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.," according to DNAinfo.

Happy Thanksgiving if you’re celebrating. Watch for our latest articles this week and we'll publish a 'Week Ahead' on Sunday, Nov. 29. 

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 23 Sun, 22 Nov 2015 05:00:00 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, August 17 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5851:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-august-17 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5851:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-august-17 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week may be one to really focus on the fact that New York's two baseball teams are both in first place. With the Mets and Yankees atop their respective divisions, there's a lot of buzz in the air about Big Apple postseason baseball. It could be a fairly quiet week in New York politics - though this is never something the smart money is on. But, the City Council has no public hearings on the calendar this week (last week, the Council held several meetings and its lone full-body Stated Meeting of the month) and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is away on vacation, Governor Andrew Cuomo has had a quiet schedule of late as he has been attending to the health of his longtime partner, Sandra Lee, and, well, it's the middle of August. Still, though, Mayor Bill de Blasio may be looking to stir some good news as he has had a tough summer with lower public opnion poll numbers, rough-and-tumble rivalry with the governor, and some public relations missteps. More:

TRACKING DE BLASIO: the mayor had a tough PR day Friday after deciding to go to his Park Slope YMCA for a workout after learning that an FDNY firefighter had been shot and during the subsequent standoff on Staten Island. The incident ended with the gunman dead and no other casualties. Meanwhile, the injured firefighter was treated over the weekend and able to go home. Many questioned de Blasio's choice to go for his workout, though the mayor and his team insist he was getting briefed all morning and that he went to Staten Island when his fire and police department chiefs, who were there all morning, gave him the go-ahead. Still, the day's events highlight the questions around de Blasio commuting from his temporary mayoral home on the Upper East Side at Gracie Mansion, to his old Park Slope neighborhood to work out, even on days without a real-time crisis playing out. There are also, of course, the ongoing issues related to Staten Island and whether the borough gets its due attention from City Hall (under any mayor) - read our new deep dive on the issue, Does Staten Island Gets Its Fair Share?, which was weeks in the making and happened to coincide with Friday's events.

Over the weekend: on Saturday, de Blasio was on Long Island for the annual event, "Apollo in the Hamptons." On Saturday afternoon, the mayor joined Alexander Soros (son of billionaire philanthropist George Soros) and others for lunch, according to Soros' Twitter feed. Sunday the mayor had no public events.

The week ahead could very well see the mayor sign into law new legislation passed by the City Council on Thursday aimed at preventing outbreaks of Legionnaires' Disease, as well as other new bills passed through the Council, such as one mandating fire sprinklers in pet stores. Indicative of the slow pace that the week could see, the mayor is spending Monday in Rhode Island, with no public events scheduled.

LEGIONNAIRES' LATEST: the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that has taken 12 lives in the Bronx appears to have abated. The mayor's office reports that there have been no cases with onset of symptoms after August 3. A total of 124 people are reported to have had symptoms during the outbreak, with 94 treated and discharged. The 12 deceased were all "adults with underlying medical conditions." Many of the water cooling towers at the heart of the outbreak (which is airborne and similar to pneumonia, not contracted through drinking water or person-to-person) have been disinfected and the City Council passed new legislation aimed at preventing future outbreaks. As Council Member Corey Johnson, chair of the Council health committee, and others have said, Legionnaires' isn't going to completely go away, and there are many cases each year, but important steps can be taken to prevent major outbreaks.

There is a town hall meeting on Legionnaires' scheduled for Monday in the Bronx, see below for details.

It's looking like a quiet August week as of now - only a few events on our radar for you to be aware of - though others will surely pop up as the week begins - read our initial day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
On Monday, "Governor Cuomo's administration hosts a summit on emergency planning attended by hundreds of disaster management officials and local leaders from across New York State." At 10 a.m., "Senior administration officials kick off the summit with a presentation on emergency preparedness and make an announcement – Empire State Plaza Convention Center," and at 1:15 p.m., "Tour of the New York State Office of Emergency Management's Emergency Operations Center and various State emergency response assets – Building 22, Harriman State Office Campus."

At 2 p.m. in Glendale, City Council Members Rory Lancman and Elizabeth Crowley, the Anti-Defamation League, Queens Jewish Community Council, Family members of Leo Frank, Public Advocate Letitia James, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Assembly Member David Weprin, and others will mark "the 100th anniversay of the lynching of Leo Frank" with "a memorial to commemorate this tragic event in Jewish-American history. Following his wrongful conviction for murder in a trial marked by antisemitism, Frank was kidnapped from prison, brutally beaten and hanged in 1915 in Marietta, Georgia. He is buried at the Maple Grove Cemetery in Glendale, where the ADL dedicated a monument to him in 2003."

At 6 p.m. community leaders in the Bronx will host a town hall on Legionnaires' Disease at Hostos Community College. Sponsors include Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, the NYC Health Department and NYC Emergency Management, and the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit.

Tuesday
There is a rally planned for 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall to protest how homeless New Yorkers are being portrayed and treated by the New York Post, police unions, and others. [Read: Homeless Solutions Not Homeless Shaming]

At 6 p.m. Tuesday NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services presents a NYC Civil Service 101 session, on "everything you need to know about applying and becoming a civil servant." Sponsors include Council Member Laurie Cumbo, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Senator Jesse Hamilton,Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Assemblyman Walter Mosley and Assemblywoman Diana Richardson.

Wednesday
At 6 p.m. Wednesday NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services presents a NYC Civil Service 101 session, on "everything you need to know about applying and becoming a civil servant." Sponsors include Council Member Laurie Cumbo, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Senator Jesse Hamilton,Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Assemblyman Walter Mosley and Assemblywoman Diana Richardson.

Also at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Letitia James is hosting a public safety town hall meeting in Brooklyn, with NYPD Chief of Patrol Carlos Gomez and Brooklyn North Borough Commander, Jefferey Maddrey.

Thursday
At 8:30 a.m. Thursday the Manhattan Borough Board, led by Borough President Brewer, will hold its August meeting.

At 10 a.m. Educators 4 Excellence will kick off the school year with its 2015 Member Summit and host new State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia as a guest speaker. There will be sessions on leadership, advocacy and finish the day with a school culture policy paper on climate change.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, the New York Young Republican Club is hosting its monthly meeting. Former Mayor of Walden, Brian Maher, will be the speaker. Elected at 23 years old, Mr. Maher was the youngest mayor in New York State.

City and State's fifth annual "On Energy" forum is scheduled for Thursday.

Friday and the weekend
Looking quiet right now, but we'll be keeping an eye out for end of week events, and you should too!

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

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by Erika Wang and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, August 17 Sun, 16 Aug 2015 05:00:00 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, August 3-7 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5842:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-august-3-7 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5842:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-august-3-7 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday August 7

PHOTOS OF THE WEEK: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and others carry a symbolic casket as part of an anti-violence campaign, via Ross Barkan; Mayor Bill de Blasio and comedian Louis C.K., who was shadowing the mayor for two days, outside City Hall, also via Ross Barkan

adams casket barkan

BdB Louis CK Barkan

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. Schneiderman Special Prosecutor Case: Earlier this week Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his first case as special prosecutor in police involved deaths of unarmed civilians would investigate the circumstances surrounding Raynette Turner’s death. [Read our in-depth look at how the new executive order shifts the relationship between oft-rivals Gov. Cuomo & AG Schneiderman]

2. Academic Integrity Task Force: After new allegations of issues with academic integrity at certain schools, NYC DOE Chancellor Carmen Fariña is establishing a permanent task force that provides oversight and training to ensure all schools comply with “rigorous policies and standards.”

3. Legionnaires’ Outbreak: On Friday, the numbers stood at just over 100 people infected, with ten dead in the most recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, this one in the Bronx. New York City buildings with water-cooling towers have to “assess and disinfect the units within the next two weeks,” under Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett’s new directive. On Thursday Mayor de Blasio said that there would be “substantial action next week, legislatively.”

4. De Blasio Mental Health/Public Safety Initiative: On Thursday Mayor de Blasio announced “NYC Safe,” a $22 million initiative, designed to find and help people with severe mental health issues and violent tendencies. The initiative will combine clinical treatment and law enforcement to intervene before or after violence occurs. The plan is part of a larger “mental health roadmap” that First Lady Chirlane McCray will unveil in September.

5. UFA Contract Agreement: On Thursday the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which covers 8,000 firefighters and FDNY personnel, and the City announced they had reached a tentative contract agreement. The deal includes new disability legislation, a key point of contention in negotiations. According to the administration, 83 percent of the city workforce is now under contract, after the number was zero when de Blasio took office.

THIS WEEK’S NUMBERS:

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

  • It was a good week for firefighters, who agreed to a new contract with the city that will see pay rise by 11 percent over seven years, including retroactivity. There is also good news for the 8,000 or so members of the UFA in terms of engine company staffing and disability pension.

  • It was a bad week for Mayor de Blasio - according to a new Quinnipiac poll, his approval rating among NYC voters is at 44%, “the worst net approval rating of his tenure.”

THE FLASH:

  • About 125 years ago, on August 6, 1890, in New York, William Kemmler became the first person to be executed by electrocution. The alternative method would have been a hanging. Kemmler was shocked twice, the second time at 1,030 volts for two minutes, before he died.

  • About this time last year, August 7, 2014, Mayor de Blasio announced a public-private partnership that would allow the City to “unlock and analyze municipal decision-making information” from the City Record and publish the record online while signing new legislation into law. The City Record has daily info from the city on government procurement, public hearings, and hiring, among other topics.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:
All from a big Thursday evening:

  • New York Senator Chuck Schumer announced he is voting against President Obama’s Iran deal.

  • The first Republican presidential primary debate was held Thursday evening.

  • Jon Stewart signed off as host of The Daily Show after 16 years. Watch his final episode here.

***
NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

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by Erika Wang and Ben Max

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The Week That Was in New York Politics, August 3-7 Fri, 07 Aug 2015 18:27:06 +0000
How We Got Here: New Law Aims to Increase Transparency and Diversity at the FDNY http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5755:how-we-got-here-new-law-aims-to-increase-transparency-and-diversity-at-the-fdny http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5755:how-we-got-here-new-law-aims-to-increase-transparency-and-diversity-at-the-fdny fdny medal day

2015 FDNY Medal Day at City Hall (photo: @FDNY)


"Diversity is strength – and the world's greatest fire department will grow even stronger when it more closely resembles the city it serves." -Mayor Bill de Blasio, June 2, 2015

On June 2, 2015 Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law Intro. 0579-A, allowing for greater transparency into the New York City Fire Department application and hiring processes by requiring that an annual report be made with regard to the racial and gender makeup of applicants. The bill, co-sponsored by Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Elizabeth Crowley, was a result of years of scrutiny on diversity in the FDNY. Currently, less than .5 percent of over 10,000 FDNY firefighters and officials are women. In 2014, the city agreed to a $98-million-dollar settlement paid out for lost wages and benefits to 1,470 black and Hispanic firefighter applicants.

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How We Got Here: New Law Aims to Increase Transparency and Diversity at the FDNY Thu, 04 Jun 2015 20:41:02 +0000
City Includes $1 Billion for Overtime in 2016 Budget http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5697:city-includes-1-billion-for-overtime-in-2016-budget-de-blasio-nypd http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5697:city-includes-1-billion-for-overtime-in-2016-budget-de-blasio-nypd bdb budget 

Mayor de Blasio presenting his preliminary budget (photo: @NYCMayorsOffice)


Some of the most prominent city agencies will again spend considerable portions of their budgets on employee overtime in fiscal year 2016, set to begin July 1, 2015. The allocation of $1 billion toward personnel overtime raises questions around optimal staffing levels and balancing cold fiscal calculation with whether understaffing might impact performance and well-being of employees.

City officials argue that staffing levels are mostly appropriate and the overtime expenditures being made is wiser fiscal policy than additional full-time hiring. There is widespread agreement, though, that employing overtime control mechanisms is in the best interest of the city. 

In his preliminary $77 billion budget for fiscal year 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio has included just over $1 billion for personnel overtime, mostly spread across the city’s vital public safety agencies. Over three-quarters of the sum, about $798 million, is in anticipated overtime work by uniformed employees, such as police and corrections officers, firefighters and sanitation workers.

There are a variety of reasons compelling the city to rely so heavily on overtime, but one in particular stands out: it actually saves the city millions of dollars.

“In many instances overtime is going to be cheaper, up to a certain point, than bringing in new recruits,” said Doug Turetsky, chief of staff and communications director at the Independent Budget Office, a publicly-funded budget watchdog agency.

“Look at the Police Department for example,” Turetsky continued. “Let’s say you hired new officers and you were able to bring some of your overtime cost down, your personnel cost in general may actually be going up because of pensions, health insurance, and other fringe benefits.”

The NYPD remains one of the most overtime-burdened city agencies. For fiscal 2016, the department is allotted more than $423 million in overtime just for its uniformed employees, nearly 16 percent of the agency’s total salary budget, according to the preliminary budget outine. Civilian personnel overtime will cost an additional $248 million, according to a report released by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton during a March budget hearing at the City Council.

Other New York City agencies are also wrestling with staffing levels and heavy overtime expenditures, which the de Blasio administration have been working to address.

According to the mayor’s preliminary budget, released in February, the FDNY has projected overtime expenses of more than $204 million and will allocate 16 percent of its personnel budget for overtime. The budget also estimates the Department of Correction will spend over $84 million in overtime, 8.3 percent of its total personnel expenditures; and the Sanitation Department over $91 million, 8.7 percent of its uniformed personnel services - according to figures that do not include snow removal, which increases overtime costs every year. But, it is seasonal expenses like snow removal that city officials and others say it makes sense to utilize overtime for rather than upping full-time staff.

The remaining $300 million in overtime is allocated to cover the cost of work in other agencies, including $23 million for the Department of Environmental Protection; $35 million for the Department of Transportation; and $17 million for the Administration for Children’s Services.

NYPD
Both Commissioner Bratton and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito have argued that the NYPD is understaffed, calling for new hiring. For a second straight year, the Council is calling for the hire of 1,000 new officers and new measures to curb NYPD overtime spending.

“In order for NYPD to continue to keep New Yorkers safe while also implementing new reforms and initiatives we need to increase the overall headcount of the department,” Mark-Viverito said in a statement just before the Council released its preliminary budget response.

Mark-Viverito also pointed out that each police precinct in the city lost an average of 60 to 75 officers since its peak headcount in fiscal 2001, and that NYPD has to systematically demand officers work overtime in order to meet the city’s daily enforcement demands, and sometimes has to rely on non-patrol precinct staff to work parades and sporting events.

Bratton appears to have asked the mayor for the green light in hiring 1,000 new cops. But Turetsky, a budget expert who has studied the city’s expenses for years, said he is skeptical the demand will be entirely met, citing the cost of the operation as the main issue.

“Our estimate is that 1,000 [new] cops will eventually cost about $100 million [per year],” Turetsky said, adding that the Council plan appears to include NYPD hiring 500 new officers, half the number requested, in each of the next two years. Turetsky said that the costs will ramp up over multiple years, in part because city pension contributions do not get made immediately.

Between 2009 and 2014, overtime expenditures for the NYPD averaged $484.6 million, according to a report on the fiscal 2015 Executive Budget issued by the City Council.

Amy Spitalnick, a spokesperson for the City’s Office of Management and Budget, said the NYPD has used overtime mostly to fund public safety programs targeting specific times of the year, citing as an example the anti-violence summer initiative the NYPD rolled out in 2014.

“NYPD overtime is not currently being utilized to cover positions that require an officer year-round,” Spitalick said. “In order to address the crime conditions of a short period, overtime was utilized to increase security for that specific time period in specific locations as needed.” This was also true in December, 2014 as protesters took to the streets on several nights in response to the non-indictment in the Eric Garner grand jury case.

Despite a reduction in overtime expenses since de Blasio took office, New York City is behind other major cities around the country in terms of money allocated to police overtime - thus leading to the call by the Council and other budget watchdogs for the City to implement an overtime-cost savings plan.

The Los Angeles Police Department, for instance, allocated only 2 percent of its personnel costs to overtime for its current fiscal year, a significant drop since 2010, when it hit 10 percent, according to data released by the Office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

It is similar with the Houston Police Department, which maintains its overtime expenditures under 5 percent of the total personnel cost, according to the Mayor’s Office of the City of Houston. 

Experts say that Los Angeles and Houston police departments may be aided in keeping down their overtime costs because both metro areas are served by both police departments and other law enforcement agencies like the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the California Highway Patrol in LA and the Harris County Sheriff's Office in Houston.

The NYPD is the only law enforcement agency on regular patrol duty across the five boroughs. This may contribute to the NYPD, the largest police department in the nation with over 49,000 full-time employees (including about 35,000 uniformed officers), struggle to keep overtime under control.

Looking at the budgets of other cities where street patrol is the jurisdiction of the municipal police department alone, the numbers are closer to those in New York City, though they are still fairly far off.

The Philadelphia Police Department, for instance, is spending over $50 million in overtime salaries this year, more that 11 percent of its total personnel expenditures, and the Chicago Police Department, the second largest municipal law enforcement agency in the nation, allocated $71 million in overtime pay, about 6.7 percent. The NYPD is at about 16 percent.

FDNY
Meanwhile, staffing issues at FDNY have been chronic for several years, beginning during the Bloomberg administration, when the uniformed headcount fell from 11,459 in 2009 to 10,646 in 2011, before reaching a record low of 10,180 in 2013.

FDNY overtime expenses shot up from $152 million in fiscal 2009 to over $292 million in 2014, the fiscal year during which Bill de Blasio took office, and the FDNY spent nearly 29 percent of its salary expenditures in overtime. And these increases in overtime expenditures have not coincided with or been a tool toward a decrease in overall department spending.

Decreased headcount and increased overtime at the Fire Department began with an event that had nothing to do with money-saving strategy. In 2007, the department was sued in a major civil rights lawsuit concerning its hiring process, and since 2009, when Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled FDNY’s admissions test discriminated against African-American and Latino applicants, a court order practically froze new hiring for several years. 

After a settlement in 2014, the Fire Department has moved to hire new - and diverse - personnel as quickly as its resources permit. “The City was unable to hire any new firefighters for a period of over four years,” Spitalnick said. “Firefighter hiring resumed in January 2013.  The City is actively hiring new firefighters up to budgeted headcount.”

At a late March hearing of the City Council Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the agency is in need of 600 additional firefighters to fulfill its duty, and that it takes a period of 18 months to hire and train new cadets, which the city is doing in waves. The FDNY Office of Public Information said in an email that the agency “is not expected to be at full headcount for the next several years.”

Although the Fire Department significantly reduced its use of overtime in the last two years, the projection for fiscal 2016 remains large.

Unforseen Events
Overtime expenditures at FDNY and elsewhere, especially NYPD, are indeed often the result of unforeseen events, rather than being a carefully planned piece of staffing and budgeting calculations.

In the fall of 2011, during Occupy Wall Street protests, the NYPD spent $17 million to keep police officers on the streets overtime, then-Commissioner Ray Kelly said at the time. 

In late 2012, Superstorm Sandy required significant extra work by public safety agencies. In the days of the storm and its aftermath, the city spent over $154 million in overtime from October 29 to December 24, according to a report published by the Independent Budget Office. Of that total, over $70 million was spent in NYPD overtime, nearly $54 million for sanitation overtime, and nearly $9 million went to FDNY overtime.

Events unfolded last winter leading to high overtime bills. The protests over police brutality and the Garner grand jury decision cost the city $22.9 million in NYPD overtime, Commissioner Bratton said during a press conference in December. By early January, the Staten Island Advance reported the OT bill was up to $35 million.

OT Rise
A Gotham Gazette review of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports for fiscal years 2004 through 2013 published by the Office of the New York City Comptroller shows that overtime expenditures have been stubbornly on the rise since 2004, around the end of Michael Bloomberg’s first term.

In 2004, the Bloomberg administration and City Council adopted a budget with over $507 million in overtime, but ended up spending more than $777 million. In 2006, the adopted budget projected overtime expenses of nearly $620 million. By 2010, expected overtime costs reached $848 million, before hitting an adopted overtime expenditure of $1.05 billion in 2014.

In December 2013 the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan watchdog organization, issued a report totaling the final cost of overtime work during fiscal 2013 at more than $1.4 billion.

“That administration didn’t have a strategy to limit overtime,” Maria Doulis, director of city studies at Citizens Budget Commission, told Gotham Gazette about Bloombeg’s, calling it “an open question” as to why the OT costs were allowed to increase so dramatically during his tenure.

At the time the CBC report came out, the organization encouraged the city to limit overtime through a series of reforms. One was cracking down on endemic absenteeism; another was to find more efficient ways to staff predictable events, such as community festivals and parades, without extending employees’ normal shifts. By adopting such measures, the report outlined, the city would have saved about $125 million.

“There is some logic behind relying on overtime,” Doulis said, mentioning savings in pensions and insurance policies that arise with new hiring, “but there is a point where you could save money if you hired more personnel instead.”

More than $
Beside the financial aspect, there is another side of the overtime coin.

While overtime is a budgetary tool that can help agencies save money in training and benefits, long work shifts also affect not only performance, but the safety of the employees and the public as well. 

This is particularly true in the case of the Department of Correction, an agency that spends heavily on overtime, and where, according to a report compiled by the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, understaffing and psychological stress has played a role in the episodes of violence at Rikers Island jail complex, which have been on the rise. It is something the de Blasio administration has pledged to address with reforms it recently announced.

“The Administration is committed to reducing overtime and shifting the workload from overtime to straight time,” said Spitalnick, the de Blasio spokesperson, said regarding corrections. She added that “given the amount of time it takes to hire and train new Correction Officers, the overtime reduction will take some time to be fully realized.” 

Since he took his post as corrections commissioner, Joseph Ponte has looked for ways to fix the city’s correctional system as part of what the administration unveiled as a 14-point anti-violence agenda, a bundle of reforms that would act to calm a climate of violence and abuse at Rikers.

One of the points in the agenda focuses on reducing overtime. “Recruiting, hiring and training more officers are key planks of Commissioner Ponte’s 14-point anti-violence agenda,” said Eve Kessler, a spokesperson for the Department of Correction. Kessler added that the department is also planning an overhaul of recruiting procedures, with the intention of improving the standards used in the hiring of new officers.

The Correction Department estimates that 8.3 percent of its total salary expenditures, over $84 million, will pay for overtime next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Despite being lower than the current year, when it topped $124 million, overtime is still one of the department’s key issues, especially from the point of view of safety for both officers and inmates.

“Overtime is just one of the problems for my members,” said Norman Seabrook, President of New York City Correction Officer's Benevolent Association. “They are forced to work up to 16 hours a day everyday in some facilities. Something has got to change.”

***
by Marco Poggio, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Note: this article has been updated with a correction from IBO's Doug Turetsky on IBO's estimates of the costs of 1,000 new officers being added to the NYPD force.

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City Includes $1 Billion for Overtime in 2016 Budget Sun, 26 Apr 2015 05:00:00 +0000
Memories of a Fatal Fire Inspire Generations of Reformers http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5661:memories-of-a-fatal-fire-inspire-generations-of-reformers http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5661:memories-of-a-fatal-fire-inspire-generations-of-reformers mmv

Speaker Mark-Viverito at the fire commemoration (photo: @IvanLS24)


New Yorkers Gather to Honor the Triangle Factory Dead and Rally for a Living Wage

Dozens of cut-outs of cloth shirtwaists fluttered in the air on Wednesday outside the gray brick building near Washington Square Park. Some of the blouses were patterned, others were adorned with chantilly lace and intricate embroidery. All were affixed to wooden poles and branded with the name and age of a victim of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which occurred at the site 104 years ago.

On a mauve shirtwaist decorated with delicate white-beaded flowers, 19-year-old Rose Liebermark.

On a pink-and-green striped version, 18-year-old Bettina Maiale.

These two were among 146 workers, mostly Italian and Jewish young women, who perished in a factory fire on the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street - an event that became a flashpoint in the Progressive Era fight for workers' rights and an ongoing symbol of such efforts.

More than a century later, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory has a new identity as New York University's Brown Building of Science and the anniversary of the tragedy has become a rallying point for minimum wage advocates.

From the science building's elevated floors, students in chemistry class, still clad in their goggles, peer out at the crowd. They look bewildered; there are few reminders remaining of the tragedy that took place long ago and of the bodies that once littered this asphalt street.

The crowd of about 150 on Wednesday hoped to change that. Every year, union workers, young students, advocacy groups, and members of the New York City Fire Department gather at the site to remember the victims and bring awareness to the ongoing fight for labor reform. At this year's ceremony, a roster of high-profile speakers pledged to continue to fight for labor laws that provide safe workplaces and higher living wages for the more than 594,000 minimum-wage workers in New York State.

"Today, like every year, let us recommit to educate and of course remember," said Vinny Alvarez, president of the New York Central Labor Council. He urged the crowd to "fight for laws that save lives and continue to advocate for all working people."

Paying respects and honoring the victims is the top priority, says union worker and auditor Chester Modzelewski. He makes an effort to attend the remembrance ceremony every year. "Never, ever forget," said Modzelewski. "That's the most important thing."

Modzelewski was joined by a fellow union worker, Mike Cummings, a supervisor for Unite Here, a labor union spanning the U.S. and Canada, which counts more than 265,000 members. Cummings said the event is a reminder of the consequences of cutting costs, something which he says still happens again and again. Workers at the Triangle factory had no way to escape because the doors were locked and nearly all fire exits were blocked in attempts to ensure that workers kept at their jobs virtually non-stop.

Edgar Romney, president of the local Workers United affiliate, believes that while much has changed over the decades, there is still a long way to go. Workplace regulation is subpar and union workers continue to be under attack, he says.

"It frustrates and angers me to stand here every year," Romney said. "As though the fire never happened, as though the world is a safe place for workers around the world."

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito expressed similar sentiments. Mark-Viverito spoke of carrying on the hopes and dreams of the 146 victims by fighting for workplace reform like paid sick leave, a living wage, and better benefits for workers. "We recommit ourselves to the fight for equity, justice, and humane working conditions," she said.

In New York right now, where the statewide minimum wage is $8.75, this means the fight for a living wage. Today, more than half of New York City's hourly workers over the age of 25 are earning $10.50 or less. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is currently promoting his Fight for Fair Pay campaign, which recommends increasing the minimum wage by the end of 2016 to $10.50 across New York State, and $11.50 in New York City. Though prominent business executives, including Viacom President Philippe Dauman, have thrown their support behind the proposal, state Senate Republicans are largely against any additional bump to the wage, while not all agree that Cuomo's proposed increase is enough.

Instead, many are calling for a hike to $15, an initiative that Mayor Bill de Blasio supported in his 2015 State of the City address in January. He proposed a minimum wage increase that would gradually reach $15 an hour by 2019. In his speech, de Blasio said that Cuomo's plan doesn't do enough to help New York City.

The Fight for 15 campaign agenda isn't limited to New York City. Last May, Seattle became the first city to announce a $15 minimum wage, and cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are also taking initial steps in this direction. The future of New York's minimum wage is being debated in state budget negotiations, and will likely be discussed in the legislative session to follow.

The 1911 fire brought the grim realities of sweatshops to the nation's attention. Just two years earlier, in 1909, more than 20,000 Triangle Shirtwaist workers abandoned the factory floor to protest for improved benefits and wages. The effort was mostly unsuccessful, raising their weekly wage two dollars. After the fire, the nation knew who these women were, said Cecilia Rubino, an assistant theater professor at the New School and director of the award-winning play "From the Fire," which is about the tragedy.

"Because they had been in the newspapers, they were figures that New Yorkers knew," said Rubino. "They were not just a name and a number, not just immigrants."

The fire spurred many changes. In the following months, labor reform laws and factory safety regulations were readily passed, including the Sullivan-Hoey Fire prevention law mandating the installation of sprinkler systems in factories. "There's where this wheel of change happened. I would say it's unprecedented in American history," said Rubino. "It was just this incredible surge of energy around peacefully legislating change."

After Wednesday's rousing speeches, there was a quiet, thoughtful moment. Members of Ladder 20/Engine 13 in Nolita raised their firetruck's ladders to the eighth floor, where the factory fire began its fatal path. Young school children, adults, and family members read each of the 146 names, one by one. "Rose Weiner, our great aunt," said one couple in unison, laying a white carnation on the ground. A Fire Department official in uniform solemnly tolled a bell.

It was a moving ritual — one that will happen again next year.

"It's a really important moment of convergence," said Rubino. "As a culture we need to believe that there are things that actually do change, there are moments where collectively we turn, and for the better."

***
Christine Chung is a graduate student at Columbia Journalism School. She's on Twitter @chrisychung.
@GothamGazette

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Memories of a Fatal Fire Inspire Generations of Reformers Mon, 30 Mar 2015 00:25:48 +0000