The de Blasio administration on Wednesday dropped its lawsuit against a correction officer union for allegedly enabling guards at the short-staffed Rikers Island jail complex to not show up for work after the group agreed to publicly rebuke jail guards who fake sick.
“Officers who are fit for duty should show up for work as required by the law,” Correction Officers Benevolent Association lawyer John Burns said during a Manhattan Supreme Court video hearing. “COBA has never instructed anyone not to show up for work, or walk off the post, or bang in sick or claim a personal emergency when that correction officer is, in fact, not sick or experiencing a personal emergency.”
Burns read out the agreed-upon statement following negotiations between COBA and the city earlier Wednesday.
In response, city Law Department lawyer Eric Eichenholtz told Judge Dakota Ramseu, “After that statement is made the city will withdraw its request for [Temporary Restraining Order], preliminary injunction and the underlying action.”
The city’s legal arm said the statement was a “step forward.”
“Because of the city’s legal action, COBA is finally encouraging officers who are fit for duty to show up for work and do right by their fellow officers who’ve been showing up to work this whole time,” said Law Department spokesperson Nick Paolucci. “This is a step forward to address challenges at Rikers, and while this ends the immediate court action, the City will continue monitoring the situation and stands ready to take further legal action as necessary.”
The head of the correction officer union labeled the lawsuit “frivolous” and accused the term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio of attempting to “destroy” them.
“So now that you have fully withdrawn your frivolous lawsuit against us, why don’t you visit Rikers and talk to our officers instead of this futile effort to destroy our union?” fumed COBA president Benny Boscio Jr. “Unlike you, in a few months, COBA will still be here.”
The withdrawal comes after on Monday the city filed suit against the correction officer union for allegedly encouraging guards at Rikers Island and other city jails to not show up for work. The de Blasio administration asked a judge to force the union to help stop correction officers from skipping shifts, either by taking sick days or going AWOL from the troubled jail, according to the lawsuit.
COBA and its leaders are “clearly aware of this campaign of mass absenteeism, and are either unable or unwilling to fulfill their obligations under the law and contract to mitigate it, putting the population of Rikers Island — employees and detainees alike — in greater danger,” according to the lawsuit.
The suit came after a top Department of Correction staffer revealed during a City Council hearing that on Sept. 14 about one in five Rikers Island employees didn’t show up for work.
De Blasio has repeatedly blasted the correction officers for calling in sick without genuine illnesses and for being AWOL. He last week announced a series of reforms aimed at bringing the lockup under control, including punishing absentee and AWOL correction officers.
Additional reporting by Julia Marsh
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