Tag Archives: emergency workers

Labor Unions, City of Phoenix

Political Demonization of Phoenix Labor Unions

It’s Wrong To Demonize Labor Unions As The Sole Source Of Pain To Taxpayers

September 11, 2011 was the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Almost 3,000 innocent people lost their lives during those terrorist attacks. 411 of those killed were emergency workers.

Stop and think about that for a minute.

411 people died because after the planes hit, they were called and asked to rush into the danger that these terrorists had created.

343 were FDNY firefighters and paramedics.

23 were officers with the NYPD.

37 were police officers with Port Authority.

Eight were EMTs or paramedics from private emergency medical companies.

411 of these people weren’t in danger from these attacks until they went to the scene to protect other people, and while there, they lost their lives.

I think every life lost was tragic. Most of the victims went to work that day or boarded planes and became casualties of al-Qaeda because they were the targets of these murderous terrorists. 411 of these victims died because at some point in their lives, they chose a vocation to help people. They agreed to answer the 911 calls that would send them into chaos. They decided to share in other people’s dangers with the hope of helping protect those people, and they knew there would be risks. They are often called heroes. They were mostly government employees.

Right now in the City of Phoenix, there is a public-relations war being waged against the public labor unions. As Phoenix has faced major budget shortfalls in the last few years, there are critics that think the source of all of our woes are these “greedy unions” that are costing us too much money.

Problem is, these union employees make less now than they use to.

Phoenix negotiates its union contracts every two years. They negotiated their last contracts in 2010 while Phoenix faced a $277 million revenue shortfall. Normally during labor negotiations, the issue isn’t will labor get a pay and/or benefit increase, but how much. In 2010, Phoenix labor groups conceded (or gave back) 3.2% of their wages, amounting to $100 million a year that they agreed Phoenix didn’t have to pay them. The labor unions did negotiate $31 million in longevity and merit pay increases for 2012. This is what they normally have. All of the politicians in Phoenix supported this. These contracts were approved by the mayor and Phoenix City Council on an 8-0 vote.

Now, in a campaign year, many candidates and some members of the Phoenix City Council have joined in with this mantra that Phoenix labor unions are the problem. The claim is that the labor unions are running City Hall. They talk about the $31 million merit and longevity increases given this year without mentioning the $100 million pay cuts in both 2010 and 2011. And this rhetoric is spreading. I talked to a citizen who called the campaign office I was working at a month ago who told me Phoenix firefighters are being overpaid. I asked him how much they made. His response was, “I don’t know, but it’s too much.”

So are these two issues related? How do we connect the heroes who sacrificed their lives in 9/11 with the current political demonization of Phoenix labor unions? What is the cost of asking men and women to train and equip themselves to respond to the emergencies that we face that might put their life in peril?

Statistics show that people in high stress jobs (such as emergency first responders) have higher rates of divorce, alcoholism, depression, and suicide. They have higher rates of cancer and live shorter lives on average. And every now and then, someone else has to go to their homes to tell their families that they won’t be coming home anymore.

If they didn’t organize into labor unions, would we appreciate them more? Without public labor unions, would we better recognize their sacrifices? Would things be better if we could just pay them less? Why is it that we seem to mostly appreciate the ones who die and not the ones who are ready to respond and don’t die?

Many of the very people who like to wrap themselves in American flags with the very thought of 9/11 are also the same people claiming that Phoenix labor groups that represent Phoenix employees (of which Phoenix police and firefighters make up a big portion) are bankrupting our city (which isn’t going bankrupt, by the way). These men and women who have made the same vow as the 9/11 heroes are being demonized as the sole source of pain to Phoenix taxpayers.

I think there is a major disconnect.

In case you’ve never seen it, there is an employee memorial outside of Phoenix City Hall that honors the fallen employees who died in the service of our city. A lot of the names on that memorial are for city employees that belonged to labor unions. Last time I checked, there were no names of politicians on that wall.


construction companies

Construction Companies Can Be Exposed To Lawsuits When Assisting The Government During An Emergency

Imagine that you own a construction company and one of your employees comes in and tells you that the two largest buildings in town have collapsed. You receive a phone call a few days later from a government official who informs you that the police and fire department need your construction company to send heavy equipment and demolition crews to the site of the collapsed buildings to help remove large pieces of debris in order to save people’s lives.

Some large construction companies in New York were faced with that exact situation after the Sept. 11 attacks. The construction companies that helped clean up the World Trade Center disaster site were responsible for removing one-and-a-half-million tons of debris that covered many city blocks. Before long, the workers who were removing the debris started getting sick, as did police officers and firefighters who were stationed at the disaster site. Many of them have filed lawsuits against numerous entities, including the construction companies that were called upon to help with the debris removal effort.

The construction companies failed in a recent attempt to dismiss the lawsuits on grounds that they were immune from liability because they responded to an emergency situation.

Any business that decides to help in an emergency must protect itself, or face the legal consequences of the almost inevitable mistakes and accidents that will happen. With careful planning and prudent oversight, you can protect your business from lawsuits related to its help in an emergency or disaster situation in the state of Arizona.
Arizona’s immunity statute

The statute A.R.S. § 26-314(A) provides immunity for the state of Arizona and its political subdivisions (i.e., counties, cities and other local governments) for the actions or inactions of its “emergency workers.” The statute states that “emergency workers” shall have the same immunities as agents of the state of Arizona and its political subdivisions performing similar work. The term “emergency worker” is defined in part as “any person who is … an officer, agent, or employee of this state or a political subdivision of this state and who is called on to perform or support emergency management activities or perform emergency management functions.” Therefore, the only way to be sure your business is immune from lawsuits related to its assistance to the state or city government in a disaster or emergency situation is to wait until the government “calls on” your business to provide help.

Your business must always operate as an “agent” of the government to be considered an “emergency worker” and maintain its immunity. Your business will be considered an agent of the government if the government has the right to control the conduct of your business as it performs its work. Thus, you should determine who is in charge of the emergency site, and you should offer assistance to that person. You should seek detailed instructions from the person in charge and make sure it is clear that your business is operating under that person’s authority.

Should your business enter into a contract with the government to perform emergency services, then the rules change significantly. The provisions of the statute would still apply; however, a business that enters into a contract with the government would be considered an independent contractor. An independent contractor is an “agent” only if the government instructs the independent contractor on “what to do, not how to do it.” Therefore, when your business enters into a contract to help the government in an emergency situation, you must make sure the contract provides your business with control over the process and/or methods that it uses to do its work.

Of course, the Arizona Legislature can amend the statute to include immunity for any business entity that renders assistance during an emergency. If businesses were provided with clear protection under the statute, there would be no need for them to worry about being an “agent” of the government, and it would persuade more businesses to render assistance to the government in an emergency.