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Laid-off Gary EMS workers say they’ve been told they owe the city money

Updated: January 18, 2013 10:35AM



GARY — The 15 Gary EMS workers who were laid off when the Fire Department merged with EMS say they’ve been told they owe the city thousands of dollars and suspect their earned time will be used to cover the bill.

Juanita Smith, a 15-year veteran, said Wednesday the 15 were called in to the Public Safety Building on Jan. 9 to meet with human resources representatives, Controller Celita Green and Corporate Counsel Niquelle Allen to turn as their badges and gear. After a question-and-answer session, each was called up individually to speak to the human resources representative about what they thought was their severance pay.

Instead, Smith said, she was told she owes the city $27,000.

“We’re trying to figure out how, if we owe the city that much money, how’re we going to get a check (for our earned time)?” said Smith, 51, of Gary. “And if I owe you that much money, why leave me in the dark this long? (The $27,000) is almost my salary for the year, so I owe you, and you’re going to get rid of me?”

Sonji Draper, a 20-year veteran, said she had 10 years with the department before she took even one sick day. According to records between 2006 to 2012 that she said she got from the department, for 2011, she had 13 vacation days, 28 sick days and 11 compensatory days earned.

According to her calculations, she expected a little more than $15,000 in time owed to her. Now, she said, she was told she owes $16,000.

“There is no way in hell I would’ve ever dedicated 20 years of my time to get this in return,” Draper said. “And there’s no way that only 15 of us owe the city money.”

Juana McLaurin, a 32-year EMS veteran, said she saw where some of her time was miscalculated; she said she even ended up correcting extra time she was given incorrectly. She’s still being told she owes the city $6,000.

And if the city plans on taking that out of her time earned, she will fight them.

“I’ve been told by a CPA and an attorney that the city either has to get (an employee’s) authorization to take money out of (earned) time, or else they have to take you to court,” she said. “This is my money.”

McLaurin also said that the employment personnel manual, which was passed as an ordinance 7-0 in 2006, states that in order to be paid for five or more sick days off, a doctor’s note was all the employee needed.

“They’re now going back to 2006 to try to get the money back for that time,” she said.

Both McLauring and Smith have appointments with a city auditor Wednesday to determine exactly how much, if anything, they owe. McLaurin, for one, is hoping it’s all a misunderstanding.

“This is a horrible way to go off a job that you love, and I don’t want to be bitter,” she said. “This job was good to me, and it had a flexibility that was humane.”

Smith and Draper, however, feel the city’s treating them like criminals, and Smith is decidedly less optimistic.

“Why are they doing me like this?” she said. “Every one of us was devoted to that job, and I have never heard of anyone going through this kind of commotion during a layoff. They’re acting like we did something to them.”



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