- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law this week that expands benefits for spouses and eligible family members of New York City sanitation workers killed on the job. This now gives them the same access to benefits as families of police, fire and correction workers.
- The policy, originally introduced as bill S5484 by state Sen. Martin Golden of Brooklyn, increases pensions to 100% of a worker's total salary. It also allows a worker's spouse to remarry without forfeiting any death benefits. The law took effect immediately and is retroactive back to Nov. 1, 1996.
- "The families of Sanitation Workers lost to a line-of-duty death deserve the same benefits available to other uniformed workers in the city. This has been at the top of my agenda, and we are thankful to our union partners, legislators, New York City, and to the governor for getting this important law enacted," said Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia in a statement.
Since 1996, 21 DSNY workers have died on the job. Before this law, their families were only eligible for accidental death benefits from the New York City Employment Retirement System that equaled 50% of the worker's salary. If a surviving spouse remarried they would have to forfeit those benefits, which is not the case for the city's other uniformed agencies. Per the new law, eligible family members can also include children up to age 25, dependent parents and any other dependents declared on a federal income tax return.
Following the passage of a "Slow Down to Get Around" law in New York last year, this is another recognition of the risks involved in sanitation. The original bill text highlighted this with the justification, "Uniformed sanitation workers perform an essential service for municipal residents and risk grave physical injury as they provide this service. Furthermore, the care and devotion members display for every neighborhood can be seen every working hour of everyday."
While hiring drivers and collection workers has been a challenge in many parts of the country, positions with DSNY are in high demand. Thousands of people applied to take the entrance exam when it was last offered in 2015. One factor is that unlike the other three uniformed agencies, DSNY doesn't require college credits. Another is the earning potential. Through the contract with Teamsters Local 831, DSNY workers see their salaries rise quickly and can even make six figures when factoring in overtime during snow season.
Yet statistically this job is also more dangerous than any of the other three uniformed occupations. Despite many precautions, workers can still be injured or killed by hazardous items left at the curb, speeding motorists or a variety of other unexpected circumstances.
Work continues to raise awareness about the role of DSNY workers, including the newly formed Foundation for New York's Strongest and a recent labor-oriented exhibition at the Queens Museum by the agency's artist-in-residence. The City Reliquary, a non-profit museum in Brooklyn, is currently running an exhibit on local sanitation history and efforts are underway to potentially open a full-scale sanitation museum in the future.