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New York City emergency medical workers prepare for layoffs

A union leader said the city was planning to cut 400 emergency medical services positions amid the pandemic.
Image: A New York City Fire Department (FDNY) Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) wearing personal protective equipment assist a woman who was having difficulty breathing during ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID19) in New York
An emergency medical technician for the Fire Department of New York assists a woman having difficulty breathing during the coronavirus outbreak in New York in April.Lucas Jackson / Reuters file

The head of New York City's emergency medical services union said Wednesday that the city is preparing to lay off hundreds of its members as the budget crisis grows during the coronavirus pandemic.

Oren Barzilay, president of FDNY EMS Local 257, blamed Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration for the expected fallout.

"Even with the threat of a second wave of COVID-19 looming and two recent outbreaks in Brooklyn, Bill de Blasio and his team at City Hall wants to balance the city's budget on our backs, eliminating some 400 emergency medical responder positions and placing every New Yorker's life at risk," he said in a statement.

Bill Neidhardt, Mayor Bill de Blasio's press secretary, did not deny the plans.

"To be clear: City Hall does not want these layoffs to happen, but this is the hole we are in without a stimulus or borrowing authority," he said in a statement. "Our EMTs and firefighters save lives every day and we are working with their unions to find personnel savings to avoid layoffs, but unfortunately all agencies will face layoffs."

No termination notices have been issued as both sides continue to discuss ways to save the city money.

"Yesterday, we were praised as heroes, essential workers saving lives," Barzilay said. "Today, the city government treats us like zeros. New Yorkers who lived through this deadly pandemic know otherwise."

De Blasio has said the city may need to cut as many as 22,000 employees as it grapples with declining contributions from the state and a tax base devastated by people leaving the city, a shuttered Broadway and a nearly nonexistent tourism industry.

The city's emergency medical technicians and paramedics responded to record call volume in March and early April, peaking at 6,500 calls a day.

The EMTs and paramedics were not immune to COVID-19. At the peak, nearly 1 in 4 were out sick as the virus ravaged New York City, killing over 23,000 residents so far.

Dennis Romero contributed.