Monday, June 19, 2006

NYC Mayor AWOL for Heroes!

You would think that the City of New York would do right by its heroes. That this city, which suffered the brunt of the attacks of Sept. 11 2001, would want to reward those police officers, firefighters and other employees who as reservists and National Guardsmen, answered the call to duty in the months and years since that day. You would think that the city would want to honor the spirit of a policy designed to help such men and women, rather than to use the policy’s details to hurt them. You would think that Mike Bloomberg, the Mayor of this great city would step in to ensure that our heroes were treated correctly. You would be wrong!

In October of 2001, as operations in Afghanistan began, then Mayor Guiliani issued an executive order, to protect any city employee called to federal military duty. Employees would continue to receive their city salaries and all benefits while on duty, in addition to their military pay. At the conclusion of their activation, employees would be responsible for repaying the city the lesser of the two salaries, whichever that was. This would allow families to continue to use their own health plan, and to ensure that a delay in military pay would not cause undue hardship.

It seemed simple, but things soon got sticky. NY State law defines military pay as the taxable salary only. But deploying employee/soldiers were induced to sign contracts, stipulating that for repayment purposes, military pay would include untaxed allowances, such as those for housing and food. These allowances make pitiful military salaries into a livable wage, in cases of New York reservists, allowances can more than double the pay. The city intended to recoup all of that money.

Months and years went by. Operations expanded beyond Afghanistan. Iraq required the mobilization of hundreds of NY employees to federal service. To date over 1300 NYPD, FDNY and assorted other civil servants have donned military uniforms for extended duty overseas. For more than four years no effort was made to collect any money paid to federalized employees. Then this spring the city, with no warning or notice, began a campaign to collect. Bills suddenly appeared in mailboxes. Collection notices from the NYPD payroll office demanded payment within thirty days. For the full amount of military pay, including those allowances that many soldiers hadn’t noticed they were signing over.

Worse than slipping the allowances, normally protected under state law, into a private contract, the city ignored the issue of taxes. While all income in the combat zone is tax free, many service members spend extensive months training in the US before deploying. Their military salaries are taxed while stateside. But the city is demanding repayment of the entire gross dollar amount before taxes. So city employees who volunteered to serve in the military and deployed overseas in the Global War on Terror are now being billed for money they paid out in taxes . One of my battle buddies, who I deployed to Iraq with, is also an NYPD officer. He banked every single military paycheck, in a separate savings account. Even after interest accrued, the city is demanding $19,000 more than he has in the account. Dollars already paid in taxes. That’s shameful!

In fact the entire affair is shameful. Mayor Bloomberg has been AWOL on this entire issue. He has allowed minion accountants, to dictate policy from behind the scenes. He has declined to take a stand on this issue. Declined to stand up for the brave men and women who have stood up for both New York City, and the United States of America. While the city is entitled to recoup the money offered in good faith to ensure its warriors could feed and clothe their families and get them nearby medical treatment, these warriors, these heroes are entitled to a good faith agreement about how much they owe and a fair and public plan to pay it back. All New Yorkers are entitled to a Mayor who leads, and who speaks up for those who serve us. Where is he?

If You live in NYC, you can share your thoughts with Mayor Mike Bloomberg by clicking on the this link.

The Defense of Mario Lozano


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