'A slap in the face': NY EMS providers want compensation, not a parade

The announcement of a COVID-19 parade for EMS workers was a shock for providers who worked long hours during the height of the pandemic amid staffing shortages


Members of FDNY EMS are boycotting the Hometown Heroes ticker-tape parade, thrown by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, as pay bargaining continues with the mayor's office.

Statements, tributes and parades that honor EMS, as well as other essential workers, are always welcome, but continue to ring hollow when EMTs and paramedics struggle to live on paltry wages and manage the cumulative effects of job-related stress.  Read more in this analysis by Lexipol Editorial Director Greg Friese, MS, NRP: "Disrespect for NYC EMS is disrespect for EMS everywhere."

Graham Rayman
New York Daily News

There’s no joy among city EMTs and paramedics over Mayor de Blasio’s COVID-19 heroes ticker tape parade next week — they’d rather have bonuses or raises for what they went through during the pandemic.

“It felt like a joke, like a slap in the face,” said Paramedic Liana Espinal, 36, a 13-year EMS veteran from Brooklyn.

EMS workers — who worked mandatory 12-hour tours and saw their caseloads soar during the pandemic — say financial relief would have been a better acknowledgement of their contributions.
EMS workers — who worked mandatory 12-hour tours and saw their caseloads soar during the pandemic — say financial relief would have been a better acknowledgement of their contributions. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

“I didn’t think it was real,” Espinal said of de Blasio’s June 14 announcement of the parade, to be held on lower Broadway’s Canyon of Heroes on July 7.

“We don’t want a parade,” said Espinal. “We want to be able to take care of our families.”

“I think it’s bogus. It’s BS. I’m not going,” said Carlos Lizcano, a 28-year veteran paramedic. Lizcano is scheduled to work the day of the parade, but said he wouldn’t go even if he had the day off.

“This is my silent protest,” Lizcano, 49, said. “And a lot of my fellow employees feel slighted too by the mayor. What does a parade do for my bills?”

EMS workers — who worked mandatory 12-hour tours and saw their caseloads soar during the pandemic — say financial relief would have been a better acknowledgement of their contributions.

While city EMS workers didn’t get hazard pay, they say counterparts who work for private hospitals and private ambulance companies did get bonuses.

Adding to the resentment is that EMS unions haven’t had a new contract with the city for three years.

Lizcano said the mayor’s intentions would be better served by taking the money to be spent on the parade and giving it out as bonuses.

“Don’t insult my intelligence. New Yorkers saw what we did,” Lizcano said. “When it came time to take care of the sick and the dying, it was us. Of course, nurses and doctors in the ER did a lot, but they are also paid more than we are.”

Lizcano described days in which his cardiac-arrest call volume for a day equaled that of a normal month.

“It felt wonderful to have the community clanking and banging their pots and pans every night, but when the mayor was asked about giving us more money, we were told it’s not the proper time,” he said. “I’m sorry — now, the federal government has provided money.”

The federal government’s latest $350 billion COVID relief package includes $4.3 billion in aid for New York City.

Espinal said before the pandemic, she would respond to three cardiac arrests a month on average, but during the crisis, it seemed like it was almost every day. “If it wasn’t you, it was one of your co-workers,” she said. “It was madness. It was constant.”

At home, she sent her three children to go live with her mom for safety reasons. Her grandmother is 94 and lives alone, and Espinal had to be careful about visiting her.

“We were working a lot and we didn’t want them to get sick,” Espinal said. “It was just really stressful. A parade might seem like a sign of appreciation. But it doesn’t help me take care of my family, so it’s really not appreciated.”

Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, which represents unformed EMTs, paramedics and fire inspectors, said the views of Espinal and Lizcano on the parade are common in the ranks. He said the union is entering its fourth year without a contract.

“When the parade posting came out, our members were laughing at it,” he said. “Our members are disgusted. We have the lowest-paid first-responder group in the city and they can’t even get a couple of dollars for their pandemic work.”

In response to emailed questions, mayoral spokesman Mitch Schwartz said negotiations are ongoing with the EMS union. The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City is raising sponsorship dollars to pay for the parade, he said.

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