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New Yorkers Fired without Just Cause

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"It is common for new Yorkers to be fired and so far, there is not much recourse."
- Mary Jeffords, Injured Workers of New York, Inc.

According to Brian Colella, age 43, and former electrician at the New York City Fire Department Buildings Maintenance Division, he was fired after winning five different grievances for unpaid overtime. "I was fired for disclosing abuse of authority, discrimination, retaliation, misconduct, mismanagement and numerous violations of law and existing rules and regulations," says Colella.

He alleges the department didn't want to pay overtime "past our regularly scheduled tour of duty and illegally retaliated against me for disclosing this."

In one instance which Colella grieved, he had worked three hours overtime, and his contract states that :"Employees shall be paid in cash at the rate of one and one-half times (1.5x) the hourly rate for all work performed in excess of a regularly scheduled seven (7) hour tour".

A lot of tradespeople in New York have this same contract. "This involves not just me, there are 32 others who haven't been paid overtime that is due them," says Colella.

This is the chain of events that led to Colella's termination.

December, 2002: "Our new supervisor, hired from outside of the Fire Department, (FDNY) refused to pay me overtime. Bottom line, I filed a grievance and had a hearing. I won the grievance, affirming that over seven hour days we get paid time and a half."

March, 2003: "I then contacted the New York City Comptroller's office and informed him that quite a number of us worked overtime but were not compensated. The Comptroller instructed us to file Notice of Claims for non-payment of overtime work to his office. Which we did. "

June, 2003: "I was terminated on false and trumped up charges without a hearing, due process or just cause."

"The trouble here is that when you do come forth and disclose misconduct and other violations, as we are required by law to do, the people with the power come after you for disclosing violations instead of going after the violators," says Colella. He further adds that monies presently owed to tradesmen in New York (electricians, carpenters, plumbers, painters etc.) is in excess of $2 million.

Carpenter Tony Giordano also worked for the New York City Fire Department Buildings Maintenance Division. He was fired while on Family and Medical Leave.
"The New York City Fire Departments Buildings Maintenance Division is a hell of a place to work, " says Giordano. "I've lost my job and my dignity." At the time of his dismissal, Giordano's union and his attorney forwarded letters to the Fire Department demanding that he be reinstated with full back pay and benefits.

"My termination was unlawful. The FDNY didn't follow Civil Service procedures. I never had a hearing or trial according to Civil Service Law. At that time I was on Family and Medical Leave. Additionally, I was never served with a termination notice", he says.

In a telephone conversation with his supervisor on November 23, 2004, Giordano was informed that he had been terminated as of November 5, 2004 in spite of being out on Family and Medical Leave. "I asked if my union had received word of my dismissal. I found out later they were never notified," he says.

In January 2005 the FDNY's response to his Union's demand was, "we will reinstate him but with no back pay or benefits." Giordano refused that deal. "If the city paid me, it would confirm that my termination was unlawful," he says.

In April 2005, Giordano was offered a settlement in which he would resign his employment but with stipulations added. The stipulations included that Giordano drop any outstanding grievances which included his Notice of Claim for unpaid overtime. He refused the terms of the settlement.

In June, 2005, Giordano received another letter which gave him an ultimatum: Accept this settlement with the stipulations or return to be reinstated, again without back pay or benefits. Again, Mr. Giordano refused the terms. "There still has not been a settlement," he adds.
"A few weeks later, I received a letter from the FDNY notifying me that the whole matter was closed. I haven't heard from them since."

"It upset FDNY supervisors when I submitted grievances about not being paid for overtime I worked. I was part of a small group of about twelve guys who also submitted grievances. These others guys have been retaliated against as well and are no longer with the FDNY. I was vocal, submitted grievances and that was the end of my job."

"The overtime here is not distributed equally. That was another thing I grieved and it got me in hot water. "For example, if you have 50 hours overtime and someone else has 20 hours, the guy with the 50 hours gets the overtime offer first if that guy didn't file grievances. In other words, Management uses overtime as a reward in total disregard of existing laws," says Giordano.

"It is quite common that New Yorkers get fired when they apply for Workers Compensation," says Mary Jeffords, spokesperson for the advocacy group [Injured Workers of New York Inc.]" Within a year of them just applying, that is, if you are out of work for a year, you can be terminated. I have people who have been terminated within a month." Jeffords has heard of this happening throughout the country.

Injured Workers of New York Inc. is also affiliated with other injured worker groups throughout the world, including Australia and Canada.

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