Closing Rikers Island would be at the expense of CO, Borough, inmate safety

One of Rikers Islands nine correctional facilities will close this summer, beginning with the George Motchan Detention Center (GMDC). In a statement from our partner, Sean Riordan, Esq., “In the Mayor’s continual attempt to close Rikers Island he has announced the pending closure of GMDC. This closure can only be viewed as creating a greater risk to the personal safety of Correction Officers throughout Rikers Island. As attacks on officers have risen drastically in 2017, further crowding of existing facilities will create untold dangers for officers in 2018 and beyond. ‘The “re-thinking’ of the city’s jail system should not be done at the expense of officer safety.”

There are more than a couple of reasons why closing the Correction Facility would not do corrections officers, inmates, or the Boroughs any good:

1) Several Borough officials and waves of community members have come out in opposition against jails being built in the boroughs. An article linked below in The Queens Gazette notes that there was potential for a new jail that would be built within proximity to several schools in the Bronx.

2) With the expanse of over 400 acres and 9 buildings that is Rikers Island, many are saying that the proposed replacement buildings in the Boroughs could not house anywhere close to the reduction goal of 5,000 inmates. An alternative is to renovate the facilities. These same renovations were cited as reasons to close the jails, as proposed in the past by NYS Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman.

3) Downsizing has already been positively correlated to spikes in violence, according to statistics from 2017. This has to lead one to ask, what would even further downsizing do?

In the article on qgazzete.com, “Former New York State Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman led a study performed by the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform Commissioners that determined the reasons for closing Rikers Island are as follows: dilapidated buildings; lack of visitor access to the facility for inmates’ family members; significant time and resources needed to ferry individuals to and from the courts; and the lack of private, safe spaces to provide detainees with effective on-site programming.” These are all things that could take place without the displacement of inmates and Corrections Officers and the raising of new jails throughout boroughs.

With the staggering budget needed to rehouse inmates and rebuild new jails, renovations could take place, as Queens Councilmen Bob Holden suggested after a tour of Rikers according to the Queens Gazette. As cited on QNS.com, “…the combined capacity of the borough jails is estimated to be 2,300, so Holden believes the nearly $11 billion cost of renovating and expanding them would be too high.” That combined capacity is less than half of the Mayor’s reduction goal. Keeping that same budget within Rikers Island to update it would be a significantly more productive, and by all accounts safer, allocation of money and time.

An article on NY Post notes that most recently, Mayor de Blasio is suing Governor Cuomo over an order that forces an expedited closure of the Robert N. Donovan Detention Center (RNDC). Housing primarily teenagers, closing RNDC could displace them into facilities with adults, removing them from classroom settings within the RNDC. These same programs have had a proven, positive effect on inmates. Shortly after that information was released, another CO was slashed in the face; this comes just a few weeks after the orchestrated attack on Officer Jean Souffrant.

Links

NYC to Close One Jail on Rikers Island This Summer

First Rikers Island jail to close in summer as part of city’s 10-year plan to shut down the complex

Rikers Island Shutdown Meeting Draws Large Crowd

‘There are no advantages’ to closing Rikers Island, two Queens officials say at prison panel

De Blasio sues to block Cuomo from closing Rikers facility

Correction officer slashed by inmate at Rikers hours after public hearing about violence against employees

FDNY EMS Gears Up, Private Ambulances Scale Down

Our citys’ FDNY saw this coming from miles away, according to the Chief Leader article linked below:

“It was back during the Giuliani administration that the city opened the door for the private carriers. Mayor Rudy Giuliani also took the Emergency Medical Service function away from the City’s Health + Hospitals and merged it with the FDNY.”

“In the years since Mr. Giuliani opened the door to the city relying on private carriers for 911 emergency medical calls, the leadership of DC 37’s Local 2507 and Local 3621, which represent the FDNY EMS workforce, has warned the City Council that such a reliance could create a sudden gap in coverage if a private carrier in the 911 network went bankrupt.”

After private ambulance provider TransCare went bankrupt in February 2016, the de Blasio administration recently approved funding for two extra ambulances and a team of 15 extra EMT’s, as well as two EMS pilot programs to be launched in the coming months. In an article on PIX 11, TransCare will be pulling nearly 30 ambulances off the streets of Manhattan and The Bronx, leaving over 81 shifts vacant. As the private provider was responding to less and less calls, leading to a 10% decrease in a one-year span, this didn’t come as a surprise to FDNY officials.

This comes in the wake of the FDNY’s gator utility vehicles-small, nimble vehicles implemented to lower response times to medical emergencies in high-traffic areas, like Times Square. Where larger ambulances couldn’t fit, the gator utility vehicles did and had all the necessary equipment for medical emergencies. In a continued effort to innovate and improve response times, particularly in The Bronx, the FDNY will deploy “fly cars” in the area. These will be support SUV’s to lead ambulances with a paramedic on board for emergencies in The Bronx.

Links

FDNY prepared to pick up slack after private ambulance company files for bankruptcy

Private Ambulances Disappear, So 911 Calls Fall to EMS

Fire Department Finds a Way Around Times Square Traffic for Medical Emergencies

City Hall, FDNY in Talks Over Ambulances

Construction Industry needs Scaffold Law

Changes to the Scaffold Law have been at the crux of recent discussions in the construction industry. In New York, 2016 and 2015 were statistically the deadliest years for construction workers-dozens of articles recording deaths due to improper equipment were published. In late 2017, two workers fell to their deaths during the same day on separate projects in the city.

Many businesses are citing unnecessary regulations on businesses, higher insurance costs for businesses, and higher taxes as reasons not to proceed with the updates to the Scaffold Law. However, an article recently published stated that this was one of a number of myths surrounding the Scaffold Law. One of the most damning points listed is that most people don’t actually know what construction insurance premiums look like. In the article linked above, Harry Bronson from the New York State Assembly simply puts:

“Third, the facts about insurance premiums. We don’t have them because insurers won’t disclose them. Insurance companies are in the business of risk analysis based on data. Policy decisions should be made based on data. It is disturbing that insurance carriers refuse to disclose the truth about construction liability insurance premiums. Indeed, if the Scaffold Safety Law were legitimately a financial burden, then one would think that insurers would be eager to validate their position and put the information forward.”

While some are squabbling about red tape, costs, and taxes, NYCOSH published a report called The Deadly Skyline. The report appropriately starts with an in Memoriam section for those who were killed due to falls at sites, listing names, ages and locations. The youngest on the list was 19. One would think even those opposing the bill can agree, worker safety is priceless. The precursor to this was when a number of NYCOSH reports related construction injuries and fatalities to union or non-union work sites. These NYCOSH reports showed a greater likelihood to get injured on a non-union project, and that Latino workers’ had a greater likelihood for wage theft and of dying on a work site.

NYCOSH puts forth a number of suggestions as additions to the Scaffold Law in the report:

“In response to the health and safety crisis facing New York’s construction workers, NYCOSH has a series of recommendations. NYCOSH continues its call to protect the Scaffold Safety Law, which grants injured construction workers who fall on the job the right to sue an employer who puts their life in danger. NYCOSH is also calling for new legislation to increase penalties for companies that willingly violate the law and cause a worker fatality, and to revoke the licenses of criminal contractors who were convicted of felonies in the case of a worker death. Finally, NYCOSH recommends increased training for workers, like apprenticeship programs on large construction projects, OSHA 10s on all construction sites, and licensing for elevator construction workers.”

There is no report that could be made that would invalidate the need to not only uphold the Scaffold Law, but to also add NYCOSH’s suggestions to the legislation. When the safety and lives of workers are at risk, businesses should do what they can to protect them. This includes longer training, safer work sites, and generally better employer practices amongst the construction industry.

Links

Letter: NY Scaffold Law protects construction workers

OUR VIEW: Scaffold Law hurts businesses in New York

Misinformation muddies discussion about Scaffold Safety Law

Deadly Skyline: An Annual Report on Construction Fatalities in New York State

City Council can protect NYC workers from construction accidents by mandating better training

NYC official urges city to classify construction site accidents as union or nonunion

EXCLUSIVE: NYC urged to release info on construction accidents to show whether union jobs are safer

FDNY opposes plan to remodel WTC Health Program

The FDNY has come out in opposition to a new plan that would remodel the WTC Health Program, a detail hidden in the upcoming Federal Budget for 2019. As it stands, the WTC Health Program is a part of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, which is a part of the Center for Disease Control.

“The budget carves NIOSH out of the CDC and places it within the National Institutes of Health, but leaves the WTC Health Program within the CDC. But NIOSH and the WTC Health Program share many employees — and those workers would move with NIOSH, critics of the plan say.”, notes an article written on Firehouse.com, linked below.

It would remove a health program made for those who worked during a national emergency from an institution that specializes in occupational health. The statistic for denied disability claims is staggering, and the need for the stability of these kind of benefits goes without saying. According to the CDC, the age bracket effected with the highest rate of enrollment in this program were first responders between 45 and 64-or, to put it more clearly, those closest to retirement who are already in need of benefits. There has already been a greatly documented history of first responders having difficulty obtaining disability benefits from the City Retirement System. Restructuring this program would only exacerbate the problems that already exist.

According to an article posted about this same change on The Chief Leader, not only would this budget change be “inconsistent with the legislation mandated by the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2015”, but it is also regarded as a “blueprint for radically squeezing domestic spending on safety-net programs and things like occupational health.”

The shifting of leadership and resources would drastically change the way that those protected under this health program receive medical benefits, and what medical care they would receive as well.

FDNY Union Blasts Trump Budget for WTC Health Proposal

Predict Problems for First-Responders

Jon Stewart, lawmakers slam Mulvaney proposal on 9/11 health program

Why we need to Protect our unions from Janus

A Supreme Court case with a 40-year precedent has been brought back to the future. On February 26th, the Supreme Court began hearings on Janus vs. AFSCME and the constitutionality of compulsory Fair Share fees. These fees are paid by non-union employees who work in unionized jobs but are still represented by the union during contract negotiations and collective bargaining. The 1977 precursor to this, Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education, determined that fees by non-union members could not be used for political purposes. Janus’ response to this is that unions are inherently political due to the activities of negotiating, bargaining, and the general goings-on that give union employees a voice in their workplace. Many expect the case to have a verdict by June. On top of that similar cases in the past have shown an unfavorable pattern for unions, noted in an article on USA Today:

“The court has ruled 7-2, 5-4 and 4-4 on three similar cases in the past six years, eating away at that 1977 decision without overruling it entirely. In 2016, Justice Antonin Scalia’s death a month after oral argument denied conservatives their fifth vote — a vote Justice Neil Gorsuch is widely expected to provide.”

While opponents of the law are citing free speech as the main issue at hand, those supporting the law are drawing on the fact that many of the opponents are those who want to see a complete deregulation of business and workers rights.

New York is the most unionized state in the U.S., with hundreds of unions representing thousands of those who make our lives livable. Roughly 70% of public employees in New York belong to a union. Firefighters, police officers, correction officers, nurses, bus drivers, train operators, engineers, sanitation workers-the list is virtually endless. According to an article written in New York Times, 27% of federal employees belong to a union. On February 24th, dubbed Working Peoples Day of Action, two of New York’s leaders and thousands of union members protested and made their position clear-they will not stand to have Janus overturned.

Many unions are saying that overturning Janus would pull funding away from the very things that make unions so important. Union’s provide the opportunity for each employee to have their voice heard, and heard loud. The expected decision of this would hinder the chance for employees to have a say in their work place, their administration, wages, and more. They provide the opportunity for a say in pensions, health care-things that are imperative to the families of union employees. Dismantling the financial structure of such an important force would be detrimental to union employees, union families, and the city and state systems that unions work for.

Links

Cuomo, de Blasio rally with unions over pending court ruling

Massive Labor-Rights Rally Set for Feb. 24

Supreme Court may deal major blow to labor unions

Federal Unions Show How to Survive Even Without Agency Fees

A Supreme Court Showdown Could Shrink Unions’ Power

Mayor to close GMDC at Rikers

NYC to Close One Jail on Rikers Island This Summer

First Rikers Island jail to close in summer as part of city’s 10-year plan to shut down the complex

Mayor de Blasio’s plan to close Rikers Island will break ground this summer at the George Motchan Detention Center. Officials working with Mayor said GMDC was chosen as the first due to structural reasons.

The Rikers Island jail population takes up the lion’s share of the citywide jail population-roughly 7,000 to the city’s almost 9,000. The Mayor had little to say about how a large spike in violence in 2017 ran concurrent to the downsizing. Closing the jail would create astronomical problems for inmates and CO’s alike, and already has.

In a statement from our partner, Sean Riordan, Esq., “In the Mayor’s continual attempt to close Rikers Island he has announced the pending closure of GMDC. This closure can only be viewed as creating a greater risk to the personal safety of Correction Officers throughout Rikers Island. As attacks on officers have risen drastically in 2017, further crowding of existing facilities will create untold dangers for officers in 2018 and beyond. The “re-thinking” of the city’s jail system should not be done at the expense of officer safety.”

“With vicious assaults on correction officers occurring nearly every week, along with a near 30% increase in inmate-on-inmate slashings and stabbings department-wide, we had hoped Mayor de Blasio would have announced a plan today to make the jails safer,” said Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen.”, quoted from NY Daily News.

NYCERS: Why are more WTC Claims being denied than approved?

A number of news publications in New York have released articles begging the same question: Why isn’t NYCERS doing more for workers who were involved in 9/11 rescue, recovery, and clean-up operations?

The links below aren’t the first of the articles. It goes without saying that one article written about this is one too many. They all come to the same conclusion, stating that NYCERS isn’t doing enough to look at, or even consider, 9/11 Disability cases. Statistically, more of these claims are being denied than approved-that is if claims are looked at in any reasonable amount of time. Workers affected in the Battery Park neighborhood were given the right in November to sue the Battery Park City Authority for not working faster with their claims. No one should have to sue their city to be able to receive benefits for working under such tragic conditions. One FDNY EMT’s claim was denied twice, written about in an article linked below. An article written by The Chief Leader described a “lack of coordination” between NYCERS and the Victims Compensation Fund.

These are six articles from 3 different publications, all ending with the same answer: There is no rhyme or reason why more isn’t being done for those who have sustained 9/11-related illnesses.

Labor Department denies ex-OSHA inspector workers’ compensation as other agencies accept his 9/11 illness

NYCERS, WTC Disability Advocates Meet About Improving Responsiveness

Stop stalling on WTC sick: U.S. Labor Department and NYCERS are failing 9/11 victims

City is denying 9/11 first responders disability pensions

WTC Health Program Doctor Concerned About Benefit Denials

9/11 Cleanup Workers Can Sue Over Health Claims, Court Rules

Continued battle for 9/11 First Responders benefits

Recently, the civil service publication The Chief Leader published several articles discussing the state of 9/11-related disability claims being processed at NYCERS. Statistically, WTC Disability claims are on the chopping block. More are being denied than approved, and the ones that are usually denied take years to be evaluated. Other issues at hand are transparency during the process of filing and overall treatment of claims and claimants by the Medical Board.

Our partner, Sean Riordan, Esq. and several other WTC Disability advocates met with the leading members of NYCERS to address the sluggish turnover rate, the unfortunately high denial rate, and ways to fix the two. Though issues of the handling of claims and claimants is still present, the meeting was regarded as positive:

“On Dec. 7, Melanie Whinnery, the system’s Executive Director, and Ilyse Sisolak, its General Counsel, met with John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, Sean Riordan, legal counsel for the FealGood Foundation, Ben Chevat, the executive director of 9/11 Health Watch, and attorneys Matthew McCauley and Michael Barasch, who specialize in WTC disability claims.

Also in attendance was Dr. Michael Crane, the medical director at the WTC Health Program Clinical Center of Excellence at Mount Sinai. The meeting lasted 90 minutes.

Both sides were upbeat about the value of the meeting and the prospects for finding common ground going forward. The 9/11-disability advocates presented NYCERS with a four-page memo obtained by this newspaper that highlights dozens of areas where the process could be more transparent and less adversarial, according to the advocates.”, as quoted from the article linked below.

NYCERS, WTC Disability Advocates Meet About Improving Responsiveness

November 2017 NYS WCB Proposal Summary

Back in September, thousands of injured workers, legislators, and other advocates stood with us in a far-reaching fight to stop the disastrous changes proposed by the NYS Worker’s Compensation Board. The public comment period ended in October and as a result of the uprising, the NYS WCB rescinded the initial proposal. November 22nd, the second proposal was released. A summary of it, written by our partner Richard Donohue, Esq., is below. The period for public comment for this ends 12/22/2017. You can email regulations@wcb.ny.gov before then to voice your opinions or concerns on the changes.


 

NOVEMBER 2017 PROPOSED SCHEDULE LOSS OF USE GUIDELINE CHANGES

 As indicated previously, the Board, under the direction of the New York State Legislature, has issued regulation changes and proposed amendments to the “Impairment Guidelines for Schedule Loss of Use”.  Their initial proposal dated 9/1/17 caused an extreme and fervent backlash from the labor community as well as from claimants and their attorneys during the public comment period which expired 10/23/17.  As a result, the Board issued a second set of proposed regulations and guidelines dated 11/22/17 regarding Schedule Loss of Use.

The November 2017 proposal rescinded the September proposal and also carried forward most of the existing schedule loss permanency guidelines, with several significant exceptions.  Although we are not in agreement with all the changes proposed in the November 2017 guidelines, we believe that this guideline proposal is a significant improvement over the initial September 2017 guideline proposal which would have devastated injured claimants and eliminated most awards for permanent loss of use to extremities.

Significantly, the November 2017 proposal eliminates the assignment of 10% to 15% schedule loss of use for rotator cuff tears, a proposal in which we are not in agreement and believe will result in lower awards for permanent shoulder injuries.  Additionally, the current existing guidelines arguably permit the addition of percentage losses for both forward flexion and abduction, whereas the November 2017 proposal states that only the greater of the two losses should be used in calculating the percentage loss of use.  We believe this will also result in lower awards for permanent shoulder injuries.

With regard to injuries to the elbow, some of the considerations given for mild to moderate loss of flexion are reduced insofar as the existing guidelines give a range from 7.5% to 10% whereas the new guidelines indicate only 7.5% for mild loss of flexion.  Whereas the range for moderate loss of flexion was 33.33% to 40%, the new guidelines indicate that only 33% loss of use would be given for moderate loss of flexion in the elbow joint.  We believe this will also result in lower monetary awards for permanent injuries to the elbow.  Similar reductions were incorporated into the guidelines for the hand.

Importantly, the new guidelines also delete a 7.5% schedule loss of use attributable for meniscus tears in the knee, whereas before they were approximately in the average range of 15% to 20% under the existing guidelines.

Changes were also made in the new guidelines proposal with regard to total joint replacements of both the knee and the hip which reflect advances in surgical techniques that have resulted in better outcomes for these type of surgeries.  Although we agree with the general proposal that the baseline for any schedule loss of use relative to total hip and knee injuries should begin at 35%, we believe the way the current proposal is written incorporates many range of motion finding deficits, thus making it unlikely that the final award will exceed the 35% figure, except in the event of a disastrous medical result.  Range of motion deficits should be added to the 35% baseline figure, not included in it.

Certainly, while the November 2017 proposal represents a significant advance over the prior September 2017 proposal which, again, was disastrous for injured workers, we believe that there remain areas in which benefits for injured workers can be improved by eliminating some or all of the aforementioned guideline changes.

An Urgent Message On Behalf Of Our Firm

HELP US STOP THE ATTACK ON WORKERS’ COMPENSATION! 

Below are several ways you can stand with us in opposition against these changes:

Sign these two petitions to make your voice known-Petition from AFL-CIO and Petition at MoveOn.org

Mail this postcard to the NYS Workers’ Compensation Board with a message to help you stand up for your rights.

Email your state senator stating your opposition to the changes. If you don’t know who your senator is, click here for the Senate’s website to find out.

THE PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD ENDS OCTOBER 23RD.

Follow the above methods to protect your rights before the comment period is over.


This past April, the New York State Worker’s Compensation Board was given the green-light to draft changes to the way payments are calculated for permanent injuries to extremities (Schedule Loss of Use evaluations). These suggestions were completed September 1st, and they ultimately resulted in drastic cuts to claimant’s benefits and, in many cases, elimination of any payment at all beyond the payment for lost time, even in cases where a fracture is sustained or surgery is necessary.

Sustaining a permanent work injury is already a stressful and life changing situation.   The current benefit calculations very often don’t even compensate an injured worker adequately for what they have lost both physically and economically.  Now, the NYS Workers’ Compensation Board and the New York Business community have just taken the next step in making it that much more difficult for claimant’s to get back up on their feet.

These guidelines call for the removal of rights that are intrinsic to the purpose of Worker’s Compensation Law. On top of drastic cuts to benefits during recovery, the guidelines provide greater discretion to the employers and IMEs. This will essentially create an environment of exploitation by those who oversee the injured party. These guidelines were not made in the interest of injured workers, and go against the foundation of what this law is supposed to do.

These proposed regulation and guideline changes are not only an egregious attempt to sharply reduce and/ or eliminate compensation awards to our injured members, they would also strip tens of thousands of injured workers of very important protections and due process rights by affording the employer/carrier doctors the ability to question the worker on non-medical issues, with associated penalties for “failure to comply” with the doctors’ inquiries. This is completely contrary to the purposes and intent of the NYS Workers Compensation Law, a law which has been in existence for over 100 years and was designed to protect those very same injured workers.

It is important to remember that, with the passing of the NYS Workers Compensation Law, the right of injured workers to sue their employers in cases of permanent injury was eliminated in exchange for a system which provides fair compensation for lost time and especially for permanent loss of functioning in extremity injuries. Should these new regulations be approved, our injured members will be left with little or no recourse when they sustain permanent loss of functioning of extremities while performing their work activities.

If adopted, these proposed regulation and guideline changes will certainly adversely affect our members. As a result, I implore you to take any and all action to help stop these proposals from taking effect.