Advocates for essential city workers are demanding the municipal employees killed by the coronavirus receive full, line-of-duty death benefits — even if it’s unclear whether they contracted the contagion on the clock or on their own.
With at least 245 city workers dead from the global pandemic so far, union leaders and elected officials are teaming up to demand that cops, firefighters and others who put themselves on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19 be treated as “line of duty” casualties.
Among those leading the charge has been City Councilman Joe Borelli of Staten Island, who is calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to extend death benefits to the families of city workers who die of coronavirus until the state can hammer out a longer-term solution.
“Health officials made a determination that this disease was so deadly that the general public must stay home and yet we still asked certain essential workers to show up every day,” City Councilman Joe Borelli told Politico. “If they had to go to work in a dangerous situation, then they contracted it in the course of their duty.”
As of last week, 68 city Department of Education employees, 38 healthcare workers, 37 police officers, 27 social service workers, and 10 firefighters numbered among the city’s coronavirus casualties — in some cases leaving their families scrambling for economic survival.
In addition, the departments of correction and mental health have both lost 10 employees, while the Administration for Children’s Services has bid farewell to seven, city officials said.
The deaths have been particularly difficult for cops and firefighters who passed from the virus short of the 20-year threshold to qualify for a full state pension.
Under current law, the family of a police officer who dies short of 20 years of service is entitled to a lump-sum payment equal to three times the cop’s annual salary. That’s short of the line-of-duty benefit that provides survivors with continued health benefits and an annual percentage of the officer’s salary.
Politico highlighted the case of one NYPD cop killed by the coronavirus one year shy of retirement from the force.
Det. Raymond Abear, who planned on buying a waterfront home in Florida for his wife and two young children, died at age 43 last month, the outlet said.
Abear’s death left his 37-year-old wife, Catherine — a stay-at-home mom — with no income or health insurance.
“We made the decision together that he would work and support our family financially and I would stay home and raise our children,” Catherine Abear told Politico. “Right now I’m in a position where I have to immediately figure out both of those roles.”
Union officials worry that pension boards will not classify deaths like Abear’s as “line of duty” deaths, which would mean families receive far fewer benefits.
PBA President Pat Lynch likened the struggle to the lengthy fight for benefits for workers who lost their lives at Ground Zero in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.
“We just finished an 18-year fight to secure treatment and benefits for all of our 9/11 heroes,” Lynch said. “Our elected leaders absolutely cannot put the heroes of this pandemic through the same ordeal. Police officers could not protect our health by sheltering in place.”
“We had to be out on the streets in every part of the city, interacting with both healthy New Yorkers and sick ones, without adequate protective equipment,” he said. “Those who were made ill by their service to the city — especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice — need to be guaranteed full line of duty benefits.”
In a statement Sunday, de Blasio said the burden of picking up the additional tab should fall on Washington.
“The President left New Yorkers without the tools we needed to protect ourselves; the least he can do now is support families who have suffered unspeakable loss,” the mayor said. “The federal government should provide death benefits to those eligible.”
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