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The following statement was read at the October 20 Financial Committee meeting in regards to the funds the Town of Reading has received from the America Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
Ladies & Gentlemen, good evening.
My name is Bob Forsythe and I am here with Dave Ferreria the President of the Reading Firefighters Association, Richard Abate President of the Reading Police Supervisory Association, Ian Nelson President of the Reading Police Patrol Officers Association and Joe Pagnotta President of the Reading Dispatchers Association. We are also joined by a small number of our members.
On behalf of the public safety professionals that serve our community, I want to thank you for allowing me to read this statement.
We are here tonight to speak on a topic that is presently being undertaken by members of town government and influenced by other special interest groups. That issue being the American Rescue Plan Act. The federal law which was designed to infuse Federal Monies, not State or Local tax revenues, back into town as forms of relief and/or compensation due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
I would like all of you to think back approximately 19 months ago, mid-March of 2020. It was a time of uncertainty as cases were being detected in the greater Boston area. The “super spreader” Biogen event had just occurred and cases in Reading were rising. The schools closed, lockdowns began, non-essential employees were put on leave and many employees were sent home to work from home. Thank goodness for Zoom!
However, as Firefighters, as Police Officers, as 911 Dispatchers, we came to work every day and continued to provide a vital service, one which could not be Zoomed, at the onset of an unknown pandemic, with what protections we could put in place. We were issued masks, gowns, face shields, and antiseptic wipes. Our vehicles and workspaces were constantly cleaned, however, at the same time, we had no idea how the virus was spread. We had no idea if we were taking it home to our families. We were changing our uniforms in basements and garages. We were taking whatever steps we could to help us feel as safe as possible during these most trying times. We were masking/gloving/gowning up and we were answering
calls. We were going into houses known to be COVID positive to transport sick patients to get the care they needed and deserved. In fact, to date, we have answered the community’s call over 6,300 times.
And we were contracting COVID. Multiple members of the police and fire unions, as well as their families, wives, children, parents… even a pregnant wife, came down with the illness as a result of a first responder working in mostly unknown bio-hazardous conditions.
Thankfully the government, on many levels, had protocols and guidelines to protect other workers while not punishing those that were infected. However, these cases continued to put additional stress on us and our families.
Again, while others had the opportunity to work from home, we did not.
One of the key aspects and intent of the legislation is for direct compensation to be paid to eligible first-line responders, the exact individuals we four unions represent. Compensation for hours worked during the most trying times of this pandemic, from its onset to the rollout of the lifesaving vaccines.
Under the State and Local Assistance portion of the law, it allows for premium pay for Essential Workers, as designated by local officials. We, as defined by the statute, clearly fall under the umbrella of essential workers. It allows for back pay for hours worked, up to a $13.00 hourly increase for the hours, with a maximum dollar cap, during the many months of the
pandemic. We ask that this body first discuss this allocation of the funds and then make the correct decision to compensate the emergency service employees of Reading for their past actions.
We are asking that the Town of Reading recognizes us for those efforts and provides us with a reasonable relief for the outstanding job done by all Public safety personnel. If this was 19 months ago, I am confident that government leaders would happily vote to do so, using funds that place no further burden on the residents of Reading. 19 months ago, we did our jobs without hesitation, we did not ask for special pay, though it was common talk in the newspapers and social media. In the past 19 months, other legislation has been passed to address areas of relief or compensation for other parts of society, this is the first legislation that addresses the front-line public safety workers and gives the elected officials the opportunity to compensate their work. Today, we ask that we be compensated. Compensated by Federal funds that cost this town nothing, for the essential work we performed for over a year for this Town and its residents and visitors.
Thank you for your time. We are glad to answer any questions and I look forward to a response from the leaders of this community.