Editor’s Note: On Thursday, November 19, LaborPress and Emblem Health bring you the second half of the 9th Annual LaborPress Heroes of Labor Awards. The virtual event beginning at 2 p.m. will feature a timely discussion with union leaders representing New York City Emergency Services workers. Honorees include Uniformed Fire Alarm Dispatchers Benevolent Association President Faye Smyth; Uniformed Firefighters Association Local 94 President Andy Ansbro; Uniformed Fire Officers Association, IAFF Local 854 President James “Jake” Lemonda; Local 2507, DC 37, AFSCME President Oren Barzilay; and Local 3621 DC37, AFSCME President Vincent Variale. Click here to register for the event.
New York, NY – The Uniformed Firefighters Association Local 94 is an 8500-member strong union on the front lines. Firefighters, Fire Marshals, Marine Engineers, Marine Pilots, and Marine Wipers comprise its membership. LaborPress spoke with UFA President Andy Ansbro to find out how members are coping with the coronavirus crisis.
Ansbro is a former member of the NYPD who went on to join the ranks of the FDNY in 2001. He began attending UFA Rallies when former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani attempted to shut Firefighters out of Ground Zero. Since then, he’s been active in scores of UFA actions, including the annual Lobby Day event in Albany, as well as the successful fight to pass the Zadroga Bill.
LP: Are your members facing lay-offs or cutbacks due to the coronavirus?
AA: They’ve left us alone as far as lay-offs. The city has been cutting deals to avoid lay-offs. We have minimum staffing requirements. We’re already short-handed. Every fire engine has to have four to five [people] so, they’d have to hire overtime staff. It’s not a savings for them. I don’t know if that will change in the future, but I don’t see that changing. They [already] have to put in more classes [at the training] Academy — 150-300 [is the number] at the Academy. You can’t have that many in one spot right now. There’s no point in putting that many in if everybody is going to get sick. The last class exited at the end of March. Some ended up getting sick, going to fire houses and infecting others. They should have been put in quarantine. The younger generation wasn’t feeling it as harshly as everybody else. They didn’t recognize the signs.
LP: What about illnesses and deaths in the ranks?
AA: In my union thousands got sick, a couple dozen were hospitalized, not everyone is back at work. There are some whose careers may be ended. Thankfully there were no fatalities. We are hoping we don’t have a flare-up.
LP: What about the issue of how members cope with taking care of their kids when their children may be learning at home?
AA: There are multiple members that are adjusting their schedule. [They may change their] shift to mostly weekends. The flexibility of our scheduling has been mostly an asset. We’re not unique to that problem. Everybody’s feeling it.
LP: Are there other front-and-center issues that are facing the union right now?
AA: We are definitely worried about how the fiscal crisis will affect our members. We are three years out of contract. The City is not willing to sit down and discuss raises when others are trying to re-negotiate payments settled years ago. An example is the teacher’s union. They agreed to half now, half later, and set a bad pattern that the City is trying to get everybody to agree to.