The Chief
June 24, 2005


Pataki Does Right on 9/11 Bill

Governor Pataki deserves praise for finally signing into law a bill granting disability pensions to public workers who contract long-term illnesses as a result of their work during the rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site.

He had vetoed two previous bills on the issue, one approved by the State Legislature late last year, largely due to the objections of Mayor Bloomberg, who claimed the costs could be prohibitive. The measure that the Governor enacted was fine-tuned to eliminate some of the ailments previously covered that were either hard to quantify or hard to trace to the work done at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the Trade Center’s destruction nearly four years ago. One amendment created a task force of city and state officials that in addition to analyzing the effects of exposure to contaminants at the site will try to identify Federal funding that’s available to defray some of the costs.

Union leaders led by Pete Meringolo, the Correction Captains’ president who chairs the Public Employee Conference, finally convinced the Governor that the worst-case projections drawn up by the city’s Chief Actuary, Robert North, and cited by the Mayor’s Office were unrealistic.

They also advanced a compelling argument why the Governor could not allow the bill to languish, and Mr. Pataki alluded to it in his remark about “those who answered the call to duty without hesitation.”

He wasn’t referring solely to the brave men and women who came to the Trade Center immediately following the terrorist attacks, more than 400 of whom died during the rescue efforts. Those who assisted, for days that stretched into months, in the search for possible survivors and the remains of those who died, as well as the transport of corpses and materials to both the City Morgue at Bellevue and the Fresh Kills landfill did so with more than a suspicion that they were exposing themselves to toxic materials. Those who worked in what became known as The Pit initially faced physical danger as well.

They continued their work without regard to the dangers they were confronting. For some of them, it was simply another risk in a job filled with hazards; for many, the emotional attachment to those who had been lost somewhere in the wreckage was so strong that finding them or their remains took precedence over safeguarding their own health.

Mr. Meringolo was among the labor leaders who warned that if there was not compensation in the way of improved pensions for those who put themselves in harm’s way in that manner, it could affect the level of response by emergency workers to a future calamity. Risking their lives was one thing, he said, but it was quite another to do it if they were uncertain that they or their families would be financially covered if they suffered a debilitating injury or disease as a result.

The new bill acknowledges, in a tangible way, what we owe such workers for the intangible qualities that they bring to their job. Any concerns about the cost should more than balanced by what the city and state gain by this affirmation of faith in the value of what our emergency workers do.