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NYC fire union sues over blocked disability pension measure

UFA President Steve Cassidy, joined by recently hired

UFA President Steve Cassidy, joined by recently hired FDNY firefighters, announces a lawsuit against the New York City council speaker at City Hall, Tuesday July 14, 2015. Credit: Bryan R. Smith

A union representing New York City firefighters filed a lawsuit Tuesday contesting the City Council's refusal to release information relating to FDNY members' fight for higher disability pensions.

Uniformed Firefighters Association president Steve Cassidy accused Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) of conducting a "farce" -- pledging transparency in government, then manipulating the legislative process to thwart open debate.

Under the state Freedom of Information Law, the union sought the name of an unidentified council member on a bill aligned with efforts in Albany to increase benefits for injured firefighters and police officers, according to court documents. Having a sponsor aside from UFA ally Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Queens) on the bill prevented her from bringing it to a vote, the union said.

City Council lawyers denied the request, saying they can't confirm or deny such information exists and citing "attorney-client privilege," the documents showed.

Cassidy said he believes the citing of an unnamed council member is a ruse to delay or prevent action that could ultimately restore FDNY disability benefits rolled back under a 2009 state law change.

"It is good government for some council member to put their name on an issue simply to keep it from coming up for a debate?" Cassidy asked outside State Supreme Court in Manhattan. "I don't believe there is such a person. I think it's a lie."

Mark-Viverito and Mayor Bill de Blasio have said full restoration of the pensions would threaten the city's fiscal health.

The City Council in a statement said, "We take FOIL very seriously and are confident the determinations made were correct in the letter and the spirit of the law."

Newly hired firefighters disabled in the line of duty receive only 50 percent of their final year's pay, offset by Social Security benefits. Firefighters working before the 2009 change are entitled to 75 percent of their final year's pay.

Hofstra Law professor Eric Lane, who served as special counsel to a former council speaker, said it is implausible to have an unidentified council member sponsoring legislation. He said he believes city lawyers consultations to council members should be available to the public, not protected by client-attorney privilege.

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