Police, Firefighters, and Teachers Have Residency Exemptions
While most of New York City's governmental agencies and departments are permitted to employ only workers who live within New York City's five boroughs, police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers, corrections officers, and teachers are permitted to live in New York State counties surrounding New York City.
While these positions are often viewed as difficult to fill with highly qualified employees without the competition from the counties surrounding our city, the absence of the residency requirement has negative consequences as well. Many of us have encountered police officers who express a hatred for New York City, and we might be spared the horror of many of the worst incidents of police misconduct if officers who hate New York City worked elsewhere. If such officers were forced to choose between moving to New York City and finding jobs near their own homes, those officers would likely leave the NYPD, which would improve community relations and save lives.
A residency requirement for firefighters might improve the racial make-up of the FDNY to more closely reflect the racial make-up New York City. The lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the FDNY has resulted in law suits and embarrassment that might be avoided or reduced with the implementation of a residency requirement. While most New York City residents are people of color, the Fire Department of New York is 90% white.
The combined Black and Hispanic populations of New York City comprise over half its total population. Yet, as of October 2007, Black and Hispanic firefighters comprised only 3.4 and 6.7 percent of the FDNY, respectively. New York City has the least diverse fire department of any major city in America: 57 percent of Los Angeles, 51 percent of Philadelphia and 40 percent of Boston firefighters are people of color.
Expanding Residency Exemption
Earlier in 2009, the New York City Council passed a bill lifting the residency requirement for the DC 37 union, the union with the largest number of New York City workers. Mayor Bloomberg opposed the bill because it included a provision demanding that any DC 37 workers employed by New York City who reside outside of New York City be New York City residents for at least two years prior to moving out of New York City. The Mayor vetoed the bill, and but the City Council overrode the veto, making the DC 37 residency exemption (with the two-year residency requirement) law.
The Mayor had agreed in 2006, as part of his negotiations with DC 37, to lift the residency requirement without the two-year residency requirement, but the provision required City Council to change the law. During the nearly three years of negotiation between the City Council and the Mayor over the residency requirement provision, other unions sought to get the same flexibility that the Mayor had offered to DC 37.
The Mayor reached agreement with the unions to lift the residency requirement (without the two-year residency requirement), but the agreement with those unions requires City Council approval. The result, thus far, is a repeat of the DC 37 experience. Last week, City Council passed a bill that would eliminate the residency requirement for city workers but would require two years of residency in New York City. The Mayor is expected to veto that bill, and the City Council is expected to override that veto.
Residency Has Its Advantages
The City Council's approach is better than the the Mayor's, because it attempts to address the concerns of city workers who are seeking to move to locations with lower costs of living, but it does not allow residents of surrounding counties to take jobs away from New York City residents looking for employment within the government that they fund with their tax dollars.
One must wonder whether it is good public policy to reduce the residency requirements at all. New York City residents need more job opportunities during this period of record-high unemployment, and the trend is toward creating job opportunities within the New York City government for those who live outside of New York City.