Bill Would Make 9/11 Survivors Health Care Program Permanent

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, along with Sept. 11 first responders and union leaders, today announced the introduction of legislation to make permanent the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The act makes critical health care available to first responders and workers suffering illnesses from the toxic stew at Ground Zero after the World Trade Center’s twin towers collapsed.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, along with Sept. 11 first responders and union leaders, today announced the introduction of legislation to make permanent the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The act makes critical health care available to first responders and workers suffering illnesses from the toxic stew at Ground Zero after the World Trade Center’s twin towers collapsed.

The original legislation passed in 2010, but two key components are set to expire this fall. The bill is named after James Zadroga, a police officer who died in 2006 from respiratory disease attributed to his exposure to the deadly toxins at Ground Zero following the attacks. (See the video above from the Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act.)

More than 33,000 9/11 responders and survivors have an illness or injury caused by the attacks or their aftermath, and more than two-thirds of those have more than one illness. Many are disabled and can no longer work. They are suffering from a host of chronic diseases, including serious pulmonary disease, cancer and more caused by exposure to toxins and carcinogens at Ground Zero.

Fire Fighters (IAFF) President Harold Schaitberger said:

For almost 14 years, first responders have been dealing with the after effects of the 9/11 attacks. For many, this is a fight that will never end. It is our duty to honor those who worked in the terrible aftermath by making sure that the critical programs authorized by the Zadroga bill are renewed.

The World Trade Center Health Program, which provides health services to people who developed cancers and other illnesses as a result of the recovery and cleanup effort, expires at the end of September. Nearly 71,000 people are in the program and 58,924 of those received treatment in 2014. The measure would make that program permanent.

The bill also would continue the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund that provides funds for medical care and treatment to responders who worked at any of the sites that were targeted on 9/11. Said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler:

We can’t and won’t let this law expire. As a country, we owe the heroes of 9/11 the care and support they need and deserve. We must pass this bill to renew and extend the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

Studies show that 9/11 workers have gotten certain cancers—including prostate, thyroid and multiple myeloma—at significantly higher rates than the general population. More than 80 New York City Police Department and more than 100 New York City Fire Department personnel have reportedly died from their 9/11-related illnesses since Sept. 11. More police officers have died from their injuries since 9/11 than perished on Sept. 11.

Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, said AFL-CIO state federations will work to secure bipartisan support for the bill.

The labor movement remains committed to ensuring that the people who are suffering as a result of their bravery and determination continue to receive the care and support they deserve.

Click here to read more comments from lawmakers and to learn more about the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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13 Years After 9/11, Honor the Victims, Help Those Still Suffering

IAFF photo illustration

Today we mark the 13th anniversary of Sept. 11. As we honor the memories of the lives that were lost that day, we also should remember the thousands of people who are still suffering.

More than 100,000 rescue and recovery workers—including firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, building and construction trades workers and transit workers—and hundreds of thousands of other workers and residents near Ground Zero were exposed to a toxic mix of dust and fumes from the collapse of the World Trade Center. Now more than 30,000 responders are sick and many have died from respiratory diseases and other health problems.

The AFL-CIO is a longtime advocate of the World Trade Center Health Program and supported the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which passed in 2010 and provided medical care and compensation to the victims. The law, which expires after five years, needs to be extended and has garnered bipartisan support to achieve that goal. This year, in remembrance of all who lost their lives on 9/11 and in honor of the brave responders who are still suffering, we ask you to contact your member of Congress and urge them to support the 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Judge: Detroit Bankruptcy Case Turns State Constitution to ‘Swiss Cheese’

The Michigan judge who ruled last week that Detroit’s bankruptcy filing violated the state constitution’s ban against tampering with public employees’ pensions, adjourned a hearing on the case this morning until July 29. Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said:

As you all know, my decision last week was because there’s been a violation of constitution. I don’t believe the constitution should be made of Swiss cheese.

Detroit, with the backing of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, is seeking federal bankruptcy protection, including the right to cut pensions for the city’s more than 21,000 retired public employees, including police officers and firefighters. Kevyn D. Orr, the city’s emergency manager appointed by Snyder, has called for “significant cuts” to the pensions of current retirees.

Retired Detroit firefighter Dave Parnell told WXYZ–TV:

When is enough enough? I’ve given you 34 years. I’ve given you two ankles, a shoulder and a back. I’m not even sure about my lungs. What else do you need?

Aquilina ruled the bankruptcy violated the Michigan Constitution’s ban on “diminishing” or “impairing” the pension benefits for public employees. Today, she said:

This is a very important issue. I understand that there may be this question of moving it to federal court….But these are state issues. We’re dealing with the state constitution and an emergency manager who is a product of the state legislation.

Snyder and Orr and the state’s attorneys are asking the state Court of Appeals to overturn Aquilina’s ruling. But once a bankruptcy filing is made in federal court, legal experts say it generally trumps other litigation in state courts.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News reports that Detroit’s police and fire pensions asked the federal judge overseeing the city’s bankruptcy to delay the start of the case until the state issues are resolved.

Last week, AFSCME President Lee Saunders revealed that Orr’s legal team two weeks ago refused to meet with AFSCME to discuss retirement issues and, shortly before they filed for bankruptcy, claimed the union would have “months” to address these issues and that meetings would soon be scheduled to do so.”

Public workers are not protected by federal pension insurance. The average public service pension is $19,000 per year. A bankruptcy and possible suspension or reduction in pension payments would result in profound hardship for workers, retirees and their families. Apparently Gov. Snyder and Orr want Detroit’s public-service workers to rely on their children for food and shelter, or have to work until they die.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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19 Firefighters Killed Battling Arizona Wildfire

Nineteen Arizona fire fighters, 18 from an elite wildfire unit, were killed Sunday in an out-of-control blaze about 80 miles north of Phoenix. The members of the Prescott Fire Department’s Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew team were dispatched to the front lines of the Yarnell Hill fire to establish a fire line to try to slow fire that reportedly had wind-driven flames as high as 20 feet.

Says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the brave heroes we lost in Arizona. It is a terrible tragedy  even for the heroes who willingly  put their life on the line every day for our safety.

Fire Fighters (IAFF) President Harold Schaitberger said the 19—who averaged just 22 years of age—“made the ultimate sacrifice in protecting the communities they serve.”

When a tragedy like this strikes, all we can do is offer our eternal gratitude to the fallen and prayers for the fire fighters who continue to work side-by-side in what are, by any measure, hellish conditions. At this time, the fire is now more than quadruple in size, as crews battle triple-digit heat and erratic winds in an effort to contain the blaze.

Arizona state forestry spokesman Art Morrison told CNN that “hotshot crews” are the firefighters “who actually go in and dig the fire line, cut the brush to make a fuel break. And so they would be as close to the fire as they felt they safely could.”

According to the Arizona Republic, the 19 firefighters were found in an area that also had 19 fire shelters deployed. Some of the firefighters were inside their shelters, which are typically used as a last resort to withstand the fire if it overtakes them. Some of the crew members were found outside the shelters.

Schaitberger said an investigation is underway to determine how the tragedy occurred and “ what we do know is that it was an unprecedented weather event that resulted in ‘a wind blowout’ in all directions.”

As we mourn for those who have given their lives, we pray for the safety of hundreds more who are battling fires in the face in one of the worst heat waves in memory.

“We are devastated. We just lost 19 of the finest people you will ever meet,” Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said.

President Obama said in a statement Sunday:

They were heroes—highly skilled professionals who, like so many across our country do every day, selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet.

Sunday was the deadliest day for firefighters since the 9/11 attacks. It also was the deadliest wildfire since the 1933 Griffith Park Fire in Los Angeles killed 25 firefighters.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Photo of Northern Arizona Incident Management Team by Coconino National Forest on Flickr

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IAFF First Responders on Scene in Texas Fertilizer Blast

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Members of Fire Fighters (IAFF) locals are part of the emergency response team on the scene in West, Texas, following last night’s massive explosion at a fertilizer plant that killed as many as 15 people, injured 160 and left many missing, including a member of Dallas IAFF Local 58, who lives in West. IAFF sends us this report.

Hazmat teams from IAFF Local 478 in Waco, Texas, and IAFF Local 2505 in Killeen, Texas, and other emergency service personnel are responding to the scene of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, which has killed as many as 15 people, including several firefighters, according to reports.

IAFF 11th District Vice President Sandy McGhee is in contact with Local 478, the IAFF affiliate closest to the blast. He says, “Local 478 President Steve Tull reports that none of our members have been hurt as a result of the explosion, although their homes may be damaged.”

However, Local 58 reports that 30-year Capt. Kenny Harris, who lives in West, is missing. The IAFF and its affiliates continue to contact members in the area of the blast in hopes of accounting for all.

Hazmat teams have been dispatched, and firefighters are assessing conditions and addressing safety concerns.

IAFF President Harold Schaitberger says:

Our members are doing what they do best and are on scene making calm out of chaos by assisting their neighboring community. This is another situation where this country is counting on our first responders to be there, and our members never disappoint—they respond no matter the circumstances.

“The severity of the damage remains unclear,” says Texas State Association of Fire Fighters President Guy Turner. “We won’t have a clear picture until the entire scene has been swept by emergency personnel.”

The explosion occurred around 8:00 p.m. on April 17, leveling a four-block area around the West Fertilizer Company. U.S. intelligence officials say that, so far, there is no indication that this was a terrorist event. However, nothing will be ruled out until the investigation is complete.

Dozens of homes are damaged or destroyed, some belonging to IAFF members.

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