New UFA President Says Improved Coronavirus Protections a Priority

Chief Leader - July 07, 2020

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The Uniformed Firefighters Association's incoming president believes more needs to be done in terms of testing and housing to protect Firefighters and insulate their families from COVID-19.

The deadly virus has been on the wane in New York but seen a major resurgence in much of the nation.

Mistakes Made in Past

"Members are looking for me to get it right where mistakes were made in the past," said Andy Ansbro, a former Police Officer turned Firefighter who routed incumbent leader Gerard Fitzgerald, 4,735 to 2,113.

"I know there are many members that have sick, compromised family members that if they brought it home would definitely devastate their families," he said during a July 1 phone interview. "I know multiple guys who lived in their garage or in hotels for months on end, and they just don't want to bring this home."

He continued, "We were watching the news and they were testing inmates at Rikers Island and they were testing tigers in the zoo, but when it came for Firefighters to get tested, they basically told us where to go and good luck."

"And a lot of people went out early on for testing on their own and they were turned away because those sites were overrun," Mr. Ansbro added.

Might Bolt IAFF

The incoming president said he will also reassess the union's membership in the International Association of Firefighters.

"We spend a significant amount of our money on the international, and they want that addressed," Mr. Ansbro said. "We are spending upwards of 25 percent of our dues going to the international, and a lot of members just fail to see value in that."

He will take office August 1.

"Absolutely, it is one of the first things we have to look at," he said. "I have got to take a good look at our books, but also we have an amendment process that once a year we can make an amendment, and the amendments have to be submitted by Aug. 31. So, I got one month to take a look at the books and to address the International and report back to the membership on whether or not this is an organization we should be involved with."

Mr. Ansbro said that he was mindful that union dues had not been raised in 15 years but believed that the UFA's bid to raise them two years in a row was unsuccessful because the "members just did not believe if we were out of contract they were going to approve a dues increase."

Frustrated by Delay

He said that throughout the campaign, members expressed frustration that they were working under the terms of a contract that expired close to three years ago.

"They want to get the contract straightened out," he said. "We have been out of contract going three years and although the city is currently in serious financial straits, they did manage to settle a couple of contracts recently."

Mr. Ansbro said that the members he heard from felt they were being undercompensated when it came to the FDNY's decision to include Firefighters in responses to live-fire incidents.

"They feel they have been undervalued, especially in this day and age, with shootings in the city going up at a rapid pace," he said. "We are not being appropriately compensated for the fact that we are expected to put on Kevlar vests and enter active-shooter zones, and that really weighs heavy on the guys and girls."

Improve Inclusiveness

A recurring gripe from the less-senior members Mr. Ansbro encountered was tied to Tier 3 pension, an inferior benefit compared to what is received by Firefighters who came on the job before 2010. "Tier 3 Firefighters in New York City, when they retire, they will have half their Social Security removed out of their pension when they turn 62," he noted.

During the campaign, Mr. Ansbro said he reached out to the FDNY's fraternal organizations, including the Vulcan Society, the department's African-American group, which endorsed his candidacy.

That effort to make the UFA more inclusive, he believes, will help advance its agenda, including longstanding goals like the re-establishment of the fifth Firefighter on all engine companies.

"If we want to be able to go out to City Council Members and Community Boards for firefighter issues, it just seemed natural we reach out to the various fraternal organizations [first] to get them on board, because they have influence in areas where I might not be successful," Mr. Ansbro said.