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Workplace violence increases

The aftermath of yet another school shooting — this time in Santa Fe, Texas, in May — pushes workplace violence to the forefront of issues public sector workers face. April was Workplace Violence Awareness Month.

March marked the one-year anniversary of the murder of EMT Yadira Arroyo as she worked in the Bronx. Several recent and unrelated attacks on DC 37 members at work have heightened union leaders’ concerns about this all too common threat.

In April, a Local 1505 City Parks Worker in a Parks Dept. packer truck was making trash pickups at Battery Park when he saw someone tossing rubbish from a trash can.

He approached the man and asked him to stop. Then, as the CPW began cleaning up the debris, the man pulled out a pipe and struck the Parks worker on the head. The worker instinctively raised his hands to protect himself.

“This member was wearing a Parks-issued helmet which protected his skull and may have saved his life,” said Local 1505 President Dilcy Benn. “Any unprovoked attack is unacceptable. This event is traumatizing. We are very concerned and hope our member makes a full recovery.”

A peace officer and NYPD rushed to the workers’ aid. He was taken to a nearby hospital, having suffered a fractured hand and three broken fingers, which forced him to go on medical leave.

Public Employee Safety and Health (PESH) operates under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to protect public sector workers. OSHA defines workplace violence as “acts including assaults, aggressive behavior and threats which occur in, or are related to the workplace and entail substantial risk of physical or emotional harm… It includes actual violence… injury or harm to a person or property; threatening remarks or behavior; verbal abuse; mobbing, bullying, emotional abuse and or possession of a weapon at work.”

PESH requires a workplace violence prevention policy statement for public employers with 20 or more workers that evaluate potential risks, minimize hazards and informs workers on their rights.

The union sees a growing trend in random assaults, violence, and harassment on the job. Attacks on members of Local 420 and Local 1189 Psychologists at public hospitals and Case Workers and Social Workers in SSEU Local 371 at the Human Resources Administration and the Administration of Children’s Services were reported in past issues of PEP.

Currently, under Article 5, Section 10 of the citywide agreement, employers are required to pay employees their salary immediately when they are assaulted at work. Employees covered by the agreement who are assaulted in the line of duty are entitled to up to 18 months of paid leave without charge to their leave balances. It also provides a $25,000 death benefit if a member dies from injuries in the line of duty.

Union leaders have pursued state legislation to protect hospital workers, Emergency Medical Service workers, social workers, Transit employees and others, making it a felony to assault them. Director of Field Operations Barbara Edmonds said, “The union takes this matter seriously and will continue to explore ways to improve workplace safety at all agencies.”

— Diane S. Williams