It took a Federal jury just two hours to find that the city systematically cheated thousands of Emergency Medical Technicians out of millions of dollars in pay for the time they spend preparing for their shifts and later updating their colleagues who relieve them at the end of their tours.
District Council 37 Local 2507, which represents the EMTs and Paramedics, filed suit in 2013 asserting that members should be paid for the time spent preparing and donning protective gear, as well as for debriefing their relief crews.
The lawsuit was brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act. More than 2,500 union members signed up as plaintiffs in the case. The Oct. 25 verdict was reached after a three-week trial.
“Although the precise amount of back pay, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees owed will be determined at a later date, the backpay alone for the work performed by the plaintiff EMTs and Paramedics is in excess of $7,000,000,” said Local 2507 President Oren Barzilay. “Under the FLSA, double damages are mandatory unless the employer can establish that it acted in good faith. Because the jury found that the city willfully violated the law, the city will be on the hook for double damages.”
Molly Elkin, lead counsel in the case, said, “The EMTs and Paramedics answer thousands of calls every day, risking their lives. They should not be working for free.”
In its response, the city left open the door for an appeal.
“The valuable work these employees do has to be properly recorded and certified for the city to be able to manage its operations appropriately,” wrote a spokesperson for the Law Department. “We’re evaluating the city’s legal options.”
Administration sources said the issue revolved around employees not following the proper timekeeping procedures for overtime, noting that over the period covered by the lawsuit, “plaintiffs submitted 1.7 million requests in the city’s timekeeping system to be paid for overtime” and “98.2% of those requests were approved, resulting in $152 million in overtime payments.”
EMS Officers’ Struggle
DC 37’s Local 3621, which represents EMS officers, settled a similar case in 2015 for damages but has had to file another suit since on the same grounds.
Local 3621 President Vincent Variale put the overtime controversy in the context of the EMS locals’ lawsuit seeking pay parity with the firefighting side of the FDNY, contending that they are paid significantly less because a majority of their members are women and people of color.
“The city should pay the money owed and work with the EMS unions to address the pay problem,” he wrote in an email. “This would settle lawsuits still pending and prevent future litigation, saving the city taxpayers money.”
Both locals say they are having trouble getting the city to open contract talks. The last pact expired in June 2018.
In early September, Local 2507 and Local 3621 joined forces with the EMS Superior Officers Association and filed suit with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging the city was engaging in discriminatory pay practices.
Political Campaign, Too
EEO litigation provided a legal foundation for winning multi-million-dollar settlements in cases brought by the Vulcan Society—the FDNY’s African-American firefighter group—and Communication Workers of America Local 1180, which represents the city’s Administrative Managers.
Both the Vulcans and Local 1180 also focused on political action and efforts to win public support for parity and to end discriminatory employment practices.
In September, the New York Times editorial board weighed in to support pay parity for the FDNY’s EMS workforce.
The firefighting side of the FDNY is 78 percent white and over 99 percent male. By contrast, EMS is 28 percent Hispanic, 21 percent black and 5 percent Asian. Close to a third of its workers are women.
EMS starting salaries are several thousand dollars below those for the other uniformed services. The contrast that’s the greatest irritant exists between EMS workers and Firefighters. After 5½ years, maximum EMS pay is $50,604, compared to a Firefighter maximum of $85,292.