New York, NY – In a little over six weeks, 10-percent of FDNY-EMT workers face the possibility of getting a pink slip on Oct. 1 because of a $38 million budget cut to the FDNY, according to President Oren Barzilay of the Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics & Fire Inspectors – FDNY Local 2507 AFSCME, AFL-CIO.
As Mayor Bill de Blasio contemplates closing the city’s $1 billion budget gap by laying off 22,000 public workers, a total of 400 FDNY EMTs, paramedics and fire inspectors are expected to be on the chopping block unless they agree to a possible pay freeze or pay cut in the coming days and weeks.
“I don’t know what kind of pay cut he is talking about,” said Barzilay. “My members are making minimum wage.”
The mayor does not believe funds from the federal government are coming to close the gap.
“Layoffs are horrible, layoffs mean, you know, a family doesn’t have an income anymore,” he said. “We all wanted to see a stimulus. There’s just no way to believe in, or depend on, a stimulus right now from the federal government.”
City Council Members are considering a long-term borrowing initiative as an alternative to lay offs, pay freezes and job cuts, but the state legislators are not on board, according to the mayor.
New FDNY-EMT workers start off making $15/hour, according to Barzilay. The low pay and high stress results in a turnover of 500 to 600 people exiting the department annually.
“Once every four years a fire fighter job opens up and you will see 1,100 people leaving those jobs,” said Barzilay.
The average annual FDNY-EMT salary is $35,760, according to jobsite Glassdoor.com. Real estate and investment experts estimate that to live reasonably comfortable in New York City, factoring taxes as a single person, would require a salary of $40,000 to $50,000. A family of four would need a combined income of $125,000 to $150,000.
“We have the highest first responding workforce of women,” said Barzilay. “Over 30-percent of our workforce are women. A lot of them are single mothers trying to provide for their families. Now they can end up unemployed.”
Barzilay represents 4,000 EMTs, paramedics and fire inspectors and before the COVID-19 pandemic he noted that the city of approximately 8.399 million people was in need of at least 1,000 more.
“I think it is disturbing that they would target the first line of defense that the city has and that is the EMTS and paramedics who have proven themselves throughout the city when the pandemic hit,” said Barzilay. “The pandemic is still ongoing with a potential second wave coming, so to cut the frontline workers during a crisis is not only wrong, but inhumane.”
Barzilay was shocked that his members who were celebrated for their work just weeks ago, with applause are now possibly facing pink slips during a public health crisis.
“The EMTs and paramedics are all in an ambulance and responding to 911 calls providing medical help,” said Barzilay. “There is a shortage of EMTs and paramedics, and there are days when you can wait a half-hour to an hour for an ambulance right now. Imagine if there is a major slash of EMTs and paramedics, waiting three to four hours for an ambulance can become the new norm.”
There is not enough manpower for those working on ambulances as is, according to Barzilay, who is equally surprised by the potential cuts to fire inspectors.
“Fire inspectors do a great job of inspecting our city,” said Barzilay. “They inspect every commercial building in the city and because of their extraordinary work, there has been zero fatalities at all the sites that they inspected.”
Fire inspectors have remained on the job during the pandemic and have also helped to enforce social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis, according to Barzilay.
“They are actually a revenue generating part of the department,” said Barzilay. “They produce a positive cash-flow. How does it make sense to lay them off?”
Most fire-related deaths in the city have been at private homes or buildings.
The cuts will have a twofold impact on minorities, according to Barzilay, who has served as president of FDNY Local 2507 for three years and has been a member for 20 years. He has also worked for the FDNY-EMTs for 25 years.
“Minority elders who are low-wage do not have the money to get taxis, or the energy to get on a bus to get to a hospital,” said Barzilay. “So when they call for an ambulance, we take them all the time, regardless of whether they have insurance.”
FDNY-EMT members are 60-percent minority, according to Barzilay. Black and brown folk are already facing plenty of socio-economic problems as is.
“This is just extrapolating their problems,” said Barzilay.
Under the Taylor Law certain public employees that the city relies on, like EMTs and paramedics, are not allowed to strike, but they are allowed to choose their union leaders to represent them in disputes that should lead to a pathway of mediation.
“We are professionals and we are going to come to work because we love doing this job. It’s just a shame that our hands are tied and they are not even asking us any suggestions or advice to avoid this lay off. On Monday, the notice will go out that our members are no longer employed by the FDNY.”
Barzilay suggests that the $2 million used for First Lady Chirlane McCray’s 14-member staff of schedulers, videographers and speechwriters who are less essential to the city’s wellbeing than the EMTs and paramedics who can prevent individuals with cardiac arrests and other illnesses from being brain dead and becoming a vegetable.
“That $2 million can save us 60 workers,” said Barzilay.