Testimony of Saul Fishman, President of the Civil Service Bar Association, on behalf of the Civil Service Bar Association and Teamsters Local 237, with which CSBA is affiliated – submitted to the NYC Council Committee on Civil Service and Labor, November 20, 2020

Good morning Civil Service and Labor Committee Chairperson Miller, distinguished Committee Members, Councilmembers, Fellow Labor Leaders, City Government Colleagues and Concerned Guests:

My name is Saul Fishman, I am the President of the Civil Service Bar Association (“CSBA”), which represents the attorneys who work hard and smart each day for virtually every city agency, as in more than 40 mayoral agencies large and small, as well as attorneys working for the Housing Authority and the Transit Authority. We have a touch over 1,000 members, and are proudly affiliated with Teamsters Local 237, which has around 24,000 members.

Our members are dedicated city employees. They believe in their agency’s mission, and are a key part of making sure that the laws that this body and others enact are enforced equitably, equally, fairly and justly, without favor or discrimination. Many toil a lot of hours, not to become rich, which they certainly will not become on city salaries, especially given their crushing student debt. But I’m not here today to complain about those things – we can and should have those conversations another day – rather to discuss keeping city workers as safe as possible, and to recommend the passage of Intro 2162-2020, the bill before this committee sponsored by its Chair, the Honorable Daneek Miller and co-sponsored by Councilmember Ampry Samuel.

As we have learned during this hopefully once in a hundred year pandemic, which has already killed more than 250,000 Americans, knowing as much as possible about the risks we are facing from this deadly virus, whether those risks are at home, in our neighborhoods, workplaces, restaurants, gyms, you name it, is essential to keeping ourselves and our families, friends, neighbors and coworkers as safe as possible. This bill would amend the Administrative Code to require the Citywide Office of Occupational Safety and Health (“COSH”) to monitor the guidance published by the various Federal, State and City agencies that issue such guidance, forward it to each city agency’s health & safety coordinator within 24 hours, who would then be required to promptly send a summary to each employee tailored to what is relevant to that employee based upon the risks posed by that person’s job title.

Good as this bill is, and the Civil Service Bar Association and Teamsters Local 237 support it, there is more to be done, more unnecessary risk being inflicted upon city workers that needs exposure and prompt intervention. As we testify safely, remotely today, several CSBA members in the Fire Department are being forced to participate in-person in meetings and hearings with extremely high-risk respondents and witnesses, including Emergency Medical Technicians (“EMTs”). Indeed, the FDNY’s own Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David Prezant, conducted a study concluding that EMTs are about 15 times more likely to be COVID-infected than the average New Yorker. These meetings and hearings can, should, and in fact have heretofore been conducted safely and effectively remotely by teleconference.

I am specifically referring to the FDNY Bureau of Investigations and Trials unit (“the BITS unit”), where dedicated attorneys act as prosecutors enforcing rules against employee misconduct. These are folks who believe in following the rules, but who are being forced to either follow the brand-new, arbitrary, reckless rules written specifically for their unit, which forces them to appear in person wherever any one party wants an in-person hearing, or to be considered insubordinate for not putting their health and indeed their lives and the lives of their families at risk.

By contrast, and ironically, the Mayor’s Office of Labor Relations, which handles Step III disciplinary grievances, is only meeting remotely. We met remotely with them and the Fire Department to try to resolve this issue, but they failed to intervene to have these city workers be kept as safe as OLR is keeping itself. Arbitrators handling the final step, Step IV disciplinaries, via the Office of Collective Bargaining, are also meeting exclusively online. Indeed, all responsible entities are following guidances for remote hearings. The Family Court, which handles important abuse and neglect cases involving children, meets remotely. I know, because we represent approximately 200 members who handle far too many cases for the NYC Administration for Children’s Services (“ACS”) Family Court Legal Services, many of whom have contacted me about the challenges presented by remote hearings. You may have heard the news that New York courts have once again stopped having jury trials out of safety concerns during this second wave of the pandemic. And of course, all NYC public schools have switched back to 100% remote-only learning.

So I am respectfully requesting that this committee investigate and act to stop this city agency’s shortsightedness and hypocrisy, while supporting the good work advanced by the bill being considered by this committee. Moreover, I am also asking that this committee and DCAS reaffirm the ability of city workers to continue safely teleworking everywhere it can be done effectively. As we speak, my members at several agencies are being asked to return to their offices only to perform the exact same functions that they can do from home!

With that, I am requesting that my colleague from Local 237, Health & Safety Coordinator Susan McQuade, briefly address this committee.

Thank you very much for this opportunity, Chairperson Miller, Council Committee Members and Friends.

For more information, CSBA President Saul Fishman can be reached via sfishman@local237.org.