Gary recalculating severance for former EMS employees
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent January 27, 2013 11:18PM
Kare Freeman Wilson democratic candidate for Gary mayor.
Updated: March 1, 2013 7:12AM
GARY — Emergency Medical Service workers who originally were told they owed thousands of dollars in earned time should see most, if not all, of their money as soon as the city finishes calculating their severance.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson told the former employees at a private Friday morning meeting that an error in calculating their sick-time caused the final figures to skew toward them owing the city, former employee Juana McLaurin said. If the workers are still found to owe money after the recalculation, the city won’t ask them to repay it.
McLaurin said the mayor also took responsibility for how badly the merger was handled but said she wouldn’t reverse the decision.
“She said she took the blame for it, and supposedly, they’re straightening it out,” McLaurin said.
The mayor on Saturday confirmed her remarks, saying the whole situation was handled poorly. It was, however, the right decision, she said.
“Each department has taken measures to reduce their budgets, and when you talk about a $12 million to $13 million (fire budget), and it’s reduced by $1 million, that’s a less-than 10 percent reduction. With the exception of the legal department, because it was understaffed, our entire budget was reduced 10 percent.”
Public safety comprises 60 percent of the city’s total budget, she said.
Toward the point of earned time, Freeman-Wilson said much of the assumption the EMS workers were working under was a negotiation agreed to — but never ratifed — under the Rudy Clay administration. During that time, a provision was crafted to allow EMS workers with 20 years or more an additional vacation day.
In the end, that time was never approved.
Freeman-Wilson said the Finance Department contacted the State Board of Accounts for guidance and is following its directive with regard to reconfiguring the earned time. Those reconfigurations — and earned time payouts — are expected to be completed by Feb. 15.
“We were never trying to hardline the workers,” the mayor said. “We’re trying to adhere to the law in a way that reflects what’s reasonable to them.”
McLaurin said that since several of the former EMS workers, as well as some former firefighters, have filed complaints with the Indiana Department of Labor, the city seems more willing to work with them.
Retired firefighter Mark Altomere recently spoke to the city’s fire civil service commission over the withholding of $700 off one check and the complete withholding of another.
“Based on what they told us, I’m sure that’ll be the end of it,” she said. “But I’m going to keep watching and see what goes on.”
Former EMS employee Lisa Hall, who was with the department 17 years, said she felt the mayor wasn’t sympathetic to their plight. Hall was told at the Jan. 9 meeting she owes the city just more than $20,100.
“How long I worked for you, and you’re going to tell me I owe you?” Hall said. “(The adminstration) had some people from Superior and Northwest (ambulance companies) there, but I’m not trying to get a new job. I need the job I already had.”
The state labor department handles claims only up to $6,000 per person before they need to be filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. Nevertheless, filing with the state’s department is the is the first step in the process and allows the person to seek relief from the court.