FDNY fire inspectors, already steamed over low pay, are now fuming over a lack of protective gear during the coronavirus pandemic, a new lawsuit charges. The class action case filed Friday in Manhattan Federal Court claims that the low salaries of fire protection inspectors compared to building inspectors is another example of the "long history of racial discrimination at the Fire Department of New York." Roughly 30% of fire inspectors are white, according to the suit. About 50% of Department of Buildings inspectors, by contrast, are white. Fire inspectors were paid $9,000 on average less than buildings inspectors, though their responsibilities are very similar, according to the suit. The five fire inspectors who filed the suit through their union, AFSCME District Council 37 Local 2507, say that their second-class status within the FDNY has resulted in being denied protective gear doled out to firefighters.
"All the evidence points toward the difference in the racial composition of the two groups of employees being the reason that FPIs are paid so much less than building inspectors," said attorney Michael Lieder. "The FDNY has a history of treating fire protection inspectors as second-class employees. We are unable to identify any valid business reasons for the pay gap compared to building inspectors." Nevertheless, the FDNY is still not providing fire inspectors with protective masks during the pandemic, according to the suit. The union even obtained masks for inspectors, but the chief of the Bureau of Fire Prevention ordered they not be distributed, according to the suit. "Racial hostility explains not only the pay discrimination but also FDNY's unwillingness to provide FPI's the same types of protections and recognition that it gives to its other employees who interact with the public every day," Lieder said.
A Law Department spokesman disputed that claim.
"The health and safety of all FDNY employees is a top priority for the agency. The FDNY has provided all the appropriate safety gear to fire inspectors pursuant to CDC and Health Department guidelines so that they can perform their work during the pandemic. That equipment includes surgical masks which were provided before they were mandated for all city employees. The FDNY has made great strides in diversifying its workforce and takes seriously any claim of discrimination. We'll carefully review the lawsuit when we are served," the spokesman said.
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The city has issued gloves and masks to building inspectors, according to the suit. "It is tragic that these brave men and women are out every day inspecting our multi-family residences, stores and offices to prevent fires while we shelter from the pandemic and New York City won't pay them fairly," said attorney Robert Valli. The FDNY has long been dogged by allegations of systemic racism. In 2014 the city paid $98 million to settle a long-running discrimination case over FDNY hiring practices.