More than 100 police officers and firefighters rallied Friday at New York’s City Hall for increased disability benefits, putting a further strain on the uniformed unions’ oft-tense relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration.
Several unions — including those representing rank-and-file police and firefighters — gathered before a City Council hearing on the fate of their disability benefit. Prior to 2009, city police officers and firefighters hurt on the job received disability retirement benefits equal to 75 percent of their salaries plus any Social Security benefits.
A change to state law reduced the payout to 50 percent and could be decreased further by Social Security benefits, leaving union officials to argue that members hired after 2009 would not receive enough money to live on.
De Blasio earlier this month proposed an increase, but not to the pre-2009 levels. His bill was deemed “disgraceful” by Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy.
“His proposal is completely, wholly unacceptable,” Cassidy said. “Firefighters and police officers need to know that if they are permanently injured in the line of duty that their families will be taken care of.”
Patrolman Benevolent Association head Patrick Lynch, a frequent thorn in de Blasio’s side, dismissed the mayor’s proposal “as nothing but a press release.”
The unions pressed their case to the City Council, which would need to pass a home rule message to send the legislation to Albany. The unions also picked up a powerful ally earlier this month in Gov. Andrew Cuomo — another frequent de Blasio adversary — who supported their call to fully restore the disability benefit.
But de Blasio also received criticism from those usually in his corner. A number of city council members, Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James also attended the rally to support the unions’ hope to erase what it deems a prejudice against more recent hires.
“When a bullet comes your way, no one asks when you were hired,” James said. “When you are caught in a fire, no one asks when you were hired.”
The mayor’s office has said that a full restoration would be a financial strain, but de Blasio touted his own bill as an improvement and has been quick to note the uniformed workers’ heroism.
City Hall has tread carefully with the police unions since an open revolt by some officers earlier this year — after the death of Eric Garner and the slaying of two officers — engulfed the administration in crisis. And Cuomo and de Blasio have clashed repeatedly over the mayor’s agenda, a conflict that has seemingly escalated in the final weeks of the state’s legislative session.