9/11 Health Compensation Act Becomes Law
On December 22, 2010, the last day of the 111th Congress, the 9/11 James Zadroga Health and Compensation Act became law. The long struggle to honor those who died on that fateful day and to take care of our brothers and sisters who worked Ground Zero in the following months has ended in victory.
Many of the workers who toiled selflessly on that acrid pile have become ill with respiratory ailments and cancer. They will now receive the health care and monitoring that they deserve from a grateful nation.
The bill was first introduced in 2006 and had received over 22 hearings in Congress. The IAFF had targeted it as one of the priority items on the union’s legislative agenda for the year. This past September the bill passed in the House with the support of both Congresswoman Pingree and Congressman Michaud. It then sat in the Senate.
In early November, IAFF 3rd District Vice President Mike Mullane contacted the PFFM asking if we could assist our brothers and sisters of the FDNY in gaining the support of Senator Collins and Senator Snowe for the bill. PFFM leadership contacted staff from both of the Senator’s offices and arranged for meetings with Snowe and Collins in mid November. This began a series of three Washington meetings over the next six weeks that included the Senators, their staff, PFFM President John Martell, Uniformed Fire Officers Association Sergeant at Arms Deputy Chief Richard Alles and Uniformed Firefighters Association Sergeant at Arms Bill Romaka.
From the outset, both Senators strongly supported the merits of the bill but had legitimate concerns about how the bill was paid for. However, instead of standing idly by, Collins, Snowe and their staffs worked tirelessly behind the scenes with the bills chief sponsor, Senator Gillibrand of New York, to find acceptable offsets to ensure passage.
The close working relationship that the PFFM and IAFF have forged with Senator Snowe, Senator Collins, Representative Pingree and Representative Michaud was crucial to the success of this bill. On very short notice and at critical moments, the PFFM and our brothers of FDNY were afforded personal access to our representatives and their staffs. These one on one meetings allowed for frank and open discussions as the negotiations became more focused. In the end, Senator Collins and Senator Snowe help push the bill to its rightful conclusion with public statements of support, the only Republicans to do so prior to the vote.
There was more than one moment when it seemed all was lost, but the coalition formed behind the bill never gave up and continued to look for ways to overcome obstacles. National media attention was brought to bear on the bills vocal opponents by comedian Jon Stewart, who devoted major airtime to the legislation. His interest in the issue generated major news coverage, some of it accurate and some off the mark.
One example was a story generated by a major daily newspaper in New York City alleging Senator Collin’s representatives had threatened to have 9/11 supporters arrested outside of her Washington office. This was not true.
The group had issued a statement saying they were going to a number of Senator’s offices to talk about the bill. As a matter of protocol, a junior staff member of Collin’s had notified Capital Security of the release. The group did come to the office, met with the Senator’s representatives about the bill and had a polite and open discussion. As they were leaving the office in an orderly manner, Capital Security arrived. Seeing that no rules were being broken, all parties went their separate ways without confrontation.
The final three days before the vote proved to be extremely demanding. Members of the IAFF, PFFM, FDNY, Boston Local 718 and the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts were on the scene for last minute lobbying. They went to the offices of the major opponents of the bill, calling them on their position of supporting the bill on the merits, but not having the fortitude to find a way to make it happen. Phone calls and press releases by key state presidents of the IAFF proved invaluable, pressuring their Senators to get behind the developing compromise.
Negotiations for a compromise went into the early morning hours at the beginning of the sessions last day, with no final agreement reached. As one last attempt was made later in the morning, the senior Senator from New York, Chuck Schumer, closed the final deal about mid-day.
Less than a couple of hours later a voice vote was taken on the floor of the Senate were it received Unanimous Consent. The bill then went immediately to the House where it passed with the help and support of Congressman Michaud and Congresswoman Pingree.
It should be noted that both our Representatives, when contacted by the PFFM, vowed to stay in Washington until the House received the bill so they could vote for passage and ensure there was a quorum in that body. The final vote was 206-60, that means that 169 members of the House did not vote or had left town early to be home for the holidays.
It has been over nine years since the attacks on 9/11. It should never have taken this long for our country to honor those who died and support the first responders who served in the days afterwards on the toxic pile of Ground Zero. The partisan debate since the bill was first introduced in 2006 clearly shows the brothers and sisters of the IAFF which of our elected officials truly stands with us. We will not forget.
Although a small state, Maine’s congressional delegation played a vital role in the passage of the 9/11 Act. Representatives Pingree and Michaud stuck with us in the House, standing by to the bitter end as many of their colleagues were leaving town.
Senator Snowe and Senator Collins worked with dedication and focus to find an acceptable solution that all sides could live with in the Senate. They directed their staffs to work with the bills sponsors to keep plugging away to find a way to make it work. This behind the scenes work is never fully appreciated but is really what helped secure the victory. Their public support came at the precise moment needed to pressure others in their party to accept a negotiated compromise. They have shown this type of resolve in the past and did so once again.
We are thankful that Maine and the PFFM played a small role in the 9/11 Act becoming law. Now the health of our IAFF brothers and sisters who were at Ground Zero will be taken care of.
But it is the members of UFOA Local 854 (FDNY), UFA Local 94 (FDNY), and the New York AFL-CIO who have carried the water on this for over nine years. They never gave up.
Over this period of time these organizations worked and sacrificed with unwavering dedication. In these past few weeks their leadership dedicated all their resources to get the job done. In paticular, Richie Alles of the UFOA, Bill Romaka of the UFA and Suzy Ballantyne of the New York AFL-CIO put their entire souls into this. It is because of their strong resolve and personal attachment to the events of 9/11 that the final outcome was a success for our union brothers and sisters.
Their work and the work of so many other individuals and organizations has pushed our nation to finally recognize our Domestic Veterans, those who died and sacrificed since the attacks on 9/11. We can now say with some degree of satisfaction, that as a nation, we truly will not forget the events of that fateful day.