MDASR partner Sean Riordan met with Congressman Gregory Meeks and FDNY Ret. Chief Richard Alles to discuss the crucial issues our nation's first responders face daily. Sean is an outspoken advocate for First Responders, having joined with advocacy groups such as the FealGood Foundation and Congressional leaders to help pass legislation that affords greater health care and benefits to men and women that respond to emergency situations.
On June 27th, after months of deliberation, The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Mark Janus in Janus v. AFSCME. The decision, which overturns the 1977 precedent set by Abood v. Detroit B.O.E., states that the fair-share fees once paid by non-union employees are a violation of their First Amendment rights.
The case began in February of this year. The lead plaintiff, Mark Janus, took issue with the possibility that he may not have agreed with his unions values and was still mandated to pay for them. Although the precedent set by Abood states that these fees cannot be used for any political or ideological purposes, Janus argued that collective bargaining and the basic operations of a union are political in nature. Union employees who are not dues-paying members will now reap union benefits at the expense of full-dues paying members. Because of this, unions fear a dramatic decrease in membership, since they are now required to represent all employees without the support of fair-share fees.
Proponents of Janus called this the protection of workers’ rights and free speech, while dozens of unions and worker advocates urged the importance of unions and the good they do for their employees and members. Opponents of Janus highlighted the voice that unions give the middle and working class due to the public influence that unions have. Many say the ruling will effectively destroy their public influence, and therefore the voice of the workers they employ. In an article from the Times Herald Online, one of the Court’s Justices spoke out: “In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote of the big impact of the decision. “There is no sugarcoating today’s opinion. The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this Nation’s law — and its economic life — for over 40 years. As a result, it prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance. And it does so by weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.”
A majority of U.S. states have banned fair-share fees long before Janus made waves. The 22 states that did not are union powerhouses. As District Council 37 Executive Director Harry Garrido put it, “Today’s decision is appallingly out of sync with both public sentiment and the difficult times now faced by working families”, in a statement on his union’s website. DC 37 is New York’s largest public union, and happens to be a chapter of AFSCME.
New York’s government officials have been staunch supporters of unions and organized labor, and now is no exception. A number of legislative bills added to the 2019 State budget were put in place as safeguards against Janus v. AFSCME, with the aim of narrowing certain services and levels of Union representation to dues-paying members only. Other bills provided further incentives-like making union benefits effective at time of hire and protected benefits during leave-rather than budget safeguards.
This directly effects most of our communities hardest working people-those of who keep our neighborhoods functioning.
Teachers, law enforcement, laborers, healthcare workers, and many more.
MDASR, LLP. stands in full support of New York’s public unions and the labor movement, and has for over 60 years.
An important message on behalf of our firm from two of our partners, Ed McIntyre and Sean Riordan:
New 3rd Department Case Changes the Way We Analyze 3/4’s Cases
On Thursday April 26th, the Appellate Division, 3rd Department issued an very important decision regarding Police ¾’s claims. The determination has far reaching implications for those permanently injured in the line-of-duty. I hope you will share this information with your memberships as it only adds to the importance of their initial “Injured Employee Paperwork.”
The case, Stancarone v. DiNapoli, is the Appellate Division’s response to the Court of Appeals’ February decision in Kelly v. DiNapoli. For those not familiar with the Kelly case, the Court of Appeals found that a Police Officer, injured when a ceiling rafter collapsed upon him while he was attempting to rescue a family during a hurricane, was not entitled to a ¾’s pension. The ruling, and in a biting dissent, pointed out that the courts have been extremely inconsistent in their ¾’s determinations, specifically pointing to the varying determinations on what is, and is not, an “accident.”
The 3rd Department, who has jurisdiction over Article 78 Appeals emanating from the N.Y.S. Retirement System, acknowledged at the outset “that the standard to qualify for accidental disability retirement benefits has not always been clearly stated, with part of the confusion stemming from the use of imprecise and differing language in prior cases.” While the standard definition of “accident”, “a sudden, fortuitous mischance, unexpected, out of the ordinary and injurious in impact” is not changed under the 3rd Department’s decision in Stancarone, the 3rd Department set out a new way of analyzing these cases which will have lasting importance.
The first major change announced by Stancarone is a recognition of the Kelly decision’s statement that “requiring a petitioner to demonstrate that a condition was not readily observable in order to demonstrate an “accident” is inconsistent with case law.” The Court does away with the “readily observable” standard. In short, this directly impacts those “trip and fall” cases that have traditionally been held non-accidental when the officer could not show that the hazard they tripped and fell on was not “readily observable” and therefore could have been avoided. For example, an officer who slipped and fell on a staircase due to a juice box left on the stairs was denied his ¾’s because the judge found that the juice box was “readily observable” and therefore the officer slipping on it was his own “misstep” and not an “accident” for ¾’s purposes. Under Stancarone, the analysis of this hypothetical case is now different. Under Stancarone, the officer’s “inattention” to the juice box which caused his fall cannot be used as the reason he is denied a ¾’s pension. Even if the condition that caused the fall is readily observable, if it was not seen prior to the injury the event leading to the injury can be deemed an “accident” qualifying for ¾’s. The effective elimination of the “readily observable” standard should enable a much fairer analysis of what constitutes an “accident” and bring it more in-line with the “common sense definition of accident” as the Court of Appeals envisioned when it defined “accident” in 1982 in the case Lichtenstein v. Board of Trustees of Police Pension Fund of City of New York.
The second major analysis change announced in Stancarone is that the Retirement System must have a “specific information” in the evidentiary record that “a person in the petitioner’s position and location” could have reasonably anticipated the hazard which caused their injury. This finding goes to the “unexpected” nature of the event. For many years the Retirement System has denied ¾’s cases on the basis that an officer could have “reasonably anticipated” the hazard which caused their injury. As an example, the Court points to an officer who is injured due to a slip and fall on a slippery substance in a roadway. The Court stated unequivocally that “a blanket argument, such as “sometimes slippery surfaces exist in public roadways” is, alone, not enough to support a conclusion that the petitioner should have expected or reasonably anticipated the spot on which he or she slipped.” The court stated that a finding that the condition which caused the injury was “reasonably anticipated” must be supported by the “substantial evidence of record.”
The importance of this second change cannot be understated. Far too often an officer has been denied ¾’s because a Hearing Officer has issued a determination that the hazard presented was “reasonably anticipated” based on nothing but general conjecture and speculation. The Court now demands that the Retirement System analyze the micro-factors of the specific officer, the specific location and position of the officer at the time of the injury and explain why the hazard could have been reasonably anticipated by the individual officer.
As noted above, the Stancarone decision only adds to the importance of an officer’s initial injury paperwork. “Contemporaneous documentation” is still considered the most relevant, and accurate, description of the accident so getting it right remains the highest priority. Officer’s should take care to explain, where possible, such factors as:
–where their attention was when they were Injured – (i.e. “while searching for a suspect”);
–Lighting conditions – (i.e. “while searching for a suspect in a dimly lit back yard”);
–Their familiarity with the area- (i.e. “while searching for a suspect in dimly lit backyard that I have never previously been in before”); the specific hazard (i.e. “while searching for a suspect in a dimly lit backyard that I have never been in before I tripped and fell due to a large tree branch.”);
–A statement about the surrounding area – (i.e. “While searching for a suspect in a dimly lit backyard that I have never previously been in before I tripped and fell due to a large tree branch. I had not encountered any previous tree branches or other footing hazards in the backyard prior to my fall).
-Of course, all injuries are unique, and any other factors which may be relevant to why the officer could not have reasonably anticipated the hazard should be presented.
Understanding that many officers speed through the initial paperwork because they are 1) in pain and 2) very rarely believe that their injuries are career ending, I urge union officials and delegates to reach out to me (646-831-6229) or Ed McIntyre (631-921-5499) at any time to ensure that an officer highlights the important factors surrounding his/her injury.
Below, you will find a copy of the Stancarone decision.
Be well and stay safe.
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.
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.
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.
HELP US STOP THE ATTACK ON WORKERS’ COMPENSATION!
Below are several ways you can stand with us in opposition against these changes:
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.
MDASR, LLP wins another important ¾’s Article 78 case!
An FDNY EMT suffered severe illnesses and injuries related to her heroic actions during the 9/11 clean-up operations. After being initially denied ¾’s Disability Retirement benefits from the New York City Employees Retirement System (“NYCERS”), a Supreme Court judge found that the NYCERS Medical Board acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in finding her not disabled. This represents a legal finding that NYCERS acted without “any credible evidence” to support its decision. The judge went on to note that the NYCERS Medical Board did not counter the EMT’s own treating physicians, nor those of the FDNY’s own physicians who had all found her incapable of performing the full duties required of an EMT. More importantly, the judge also found that the NYCERS Medical Board had failed to discuss the specific job duties and responsibilities required of an EMT, nor how our client could do the job despite her well documented physical limitations.
MDASR continues to help level the playing field for injured workers seeking disability benefits. If you were injured as a result of your job, call us today at (631) 665-0609.
Attorney Advertising. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.
Last week, the Trump administration released their plan for a 10% spike in military spending. Roughly $700 million in federal grants from the Department of Homeland Security would be cut, according to an article posted on Newsday.com. These are the same grants that provide funding for counterterrorism efforts for local law enforcement agencies across the country, affecting everything from equipment to manpower. An estimated $110 million in DHS grants would be cut from their budget. Considering the NYPD is the largest municipal police force in the country, this kind of cut to their nearly $5 Billion budget is worrisome, to say the least. Senator Chuck Schumer and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill appeared in Washington DC to show how important this funding is. Commissioner O’Neill stated in a New York Daily News article, “This is critical for our operation… that $110 million represents about 600 cops. I don’t think there’s clearer terms than that.” The $110 Million cut is just one estimated slash. An article on NYMag.com says that the cut could be as high has $190 million. Schumer told New York Daily News that in 2016 the NYPD received $180 million in DHS grants for the same kind of programs and operations that would be defunded under the currently proposed budget plan, which means that all or most of what the NYPD has to support their counterterrorism programs would be taken away.
This came shortly before a terror attack in London this week. New York City and the NYPD responded by ramping up security at its British locations, according to Newsday. The British Consulate General and the U.K. Mission to the U.N. are just two locations that have been given extra security. Most of the security for these locations came from the NYPD’s Critical Response Command, a team that would greatly feel the weight of the budget cuts, along with other crucial counterterrorism programs. Schumer has been successful in stopping these kinds of budget cuts to the city in the past, and we can only hope he and Commissioner O’Neill are successful in stopping this now.
Please see the articles below for sources and further information.
Three new bills have been supported by the Business Council of New York as reforms to workers’ compensation insurance. In no subtle manner, the Business Council specifically favors the employer and insurance carrier in each of these bills, citing that some awards give too much back to the injured worker for too long a period of time. The most recent of the three was introduced at the beginning of this month.
All three proposed Bills currently hold an “In Committee” status according to the New York Senate website. Bill A5977 addresses impairment guidelines for Schedule Loss of Use awards, or SLU awards. Bill A6218 aims to limit workers’ compensation benefits for partial permanent disability (PPD) benefits. Lastly, Bill A6602 focuses on the schedule of the Permanent Partial Disability benefits, which the previous stated Bill already aims to limit. The benefits would be given for a determined amount of time after the date of accident, and any other PPD benefits that exceeded the rate would be paid to the insurance carrier. Bills A5977 and A6218 were both introduced at the end of February but A6602 was introduced this month, on March 9th. Another aim of the Bills is to extend the opt-out period for employers from 30 days to 120 days.
In an overwhelming public response against these proposed bills, a petition on MoveOn.Org received more than 600 signatures overnight. On March 16th the bill had 339 with a goal of 400, which was ultimately far surpassed. On the 17th, the petition had 1,012 and a new goal set to 2,000. Although the website does not currently state when the petition started, the first signature was submitted on March 9th, the same day that most recent Bill was introduced. The links to the Bills as well as the petition are all linked below. MDASR, LLP. stands opposed to these proposed bills and urges all those concerned with the protection of workers’ rights to sign this petition.