September 27, 2023 — New Yorkers got up the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and went about their usual routine. Some went to work at the World Trade Center, some turned up at the firehouse or the police station, some headed off toward offices around the Twin Towers.
Of them, 2,977 didn’t come home – including 34 PEF members, most from the Department of Tax and Finance.
The terrorist attack that collapsed the north and south towers of the World Trade Center at 10:28 a.m. and 9:59 a.m., respectively, took place on a sunny, clear day, in contrast to Sept. 11, 2023, when PEF staff and members gathered at the memorial at PEF Headquarters.
A moment of silence at HQ
“As we know, Sept. 11 is a significant day in our history,” said PEF Executive Director Todd Kerner. “Twenty-two years ago, one of the most tragic events occurred, not just in New York City, but in Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.”
Kerner worked as a Tax Department employee and knew many of the people at that New York City office.
“They came in that day to do their work, to do their job,” he said. “They never would have expected to see what happened. I was there that day. I was down in the street. The devastation was horrendous. It was plainly clear thousands had died.
“That day showed us the worst in humanity, by those terrorists and those actions, but it also showed us some of the best of humanity. Everybody helped everybody. There is greatness in humanity and there is sickness in humanity.”
PEF Health and Safety Director Geraldine Stella remembers coming into PEF Headquarters that morning to find people in tears and learning what had transpired during her commute. Immediately, staff began calling around to check on coworkers in the PEF office near the World Trade Center and mobilized to help whoever and wherever they could.
“It was a horrible day in a lot of ways, but it was a day that was made for union action,” Stella said. “This union leaped into action. We took care of our brothers and our sisters. We took care of the families of the people who were lost.
“We worked through our pain, we worked though our anger, and we worked, through our tears to try to help everyone, not just our union members, but everybody down there,” she said. “And that is the beautiful thing that PEF did during that time. PEF and USW came together. They had a World Trade Center fund for these families. They donated time, they donated money, they raised funds for these families.”
PEF Vice President Sharon DeSilva and Region 8 Coordinator Danielle Bridger read the names of the PEF members who died that day and staff observed a moment of silence.
Day of remembrance in NYC
In New York City, PEF President Wayne Spence and Executive Board member Conrad Davis spoke at the Department of Taxation and Finance remembrance ceremony, joined by Taxation and Finance Executive Deputy Commissioner Michael Shollar; Acting Commissioner Amanda Hiller; and CSEA President Felicia McCullough.
“Many times, when people talk about who lost their lives on 9/11, they usually talk about police officers and firefighters,” Spence said. “People are shocked when they learn that there were other state workers. They are more shocked when they find out that 40 of them came from one state agency.”
Spence said in the aftermath of the attacks, there was a comradery that is missing today.
“I have never seen more American flags displayed than in the months after that horrible day,” he said. “They were everywhere. Today we honor and remember those we lost. We stand with their friends, their family, and their coworkers, who had to pick up the pieces after losing someone.”
The value of unions was apparent in the days that followed 9/11.
“The state and everybody were in flux,” Spence said. “Insurance companies didn’t know what to do because there was nobody to claim. It was unions, like CSEA, PEF, and our internationals, that said something has to happen because folks need to pay bills and their lives have to go on in some way.
“We came and pushed the governor and elected leaders in both the state, and in Washington, D.C., to figure something out temporarily,” he said. “While they figured it out, unions came up with funding to get to those families.”
Davis, who represents PEF members in the Department of Taxation and Finance, said the Twin Towers were a symbol of American freedom and those who work in New York City held onto values of hard work, dignity in labor, and hope in the future.
“9/11 means something different to everyone,” he said. “Some of you here experienced it like nobody else will. Some of you heard it from those who experienced it. We are here today to dignify the memories of those men and women that deserve to be kept alive. We lost the towers as they were symbols of America, and we were determined that we would not lose the hope or the values they represented. We have gone through a period of healing, a period of mourning, and a period of contemplation as to what 9/11 meant. Now, we are at a point where we should be looking to the future.”