Panel ponders changes to sick leave for Gary firefighters
Post-Tribune staff report February 27, 2014 4:26PM
Updated: April 1, 2014 10:21AM
GARY — Change is coming for firefighters as the city proposes a new sick leave policy separate from benefits for on-duty injury.
Firefighters now have 90 days of sick time per illness or injury — but that’s 90 eight-hour days, and because they work 24-hour shifts, actual time off is 30 shifts.
The Gary Fire Civil Service Commission met in special session Thursday morning with two members of the City Council and Corporation Counsel Niquelle Allen to discuss a two-page proposal sought by the city.
After almost three hours of talk, which included comments from several of the dozen firefighters who attended, one thing everyone could agree on was that several more conversations would be needed.
The next one is 10:30 a.m. March 6.
The city wants firefighters to have 96 hours of paid sick leave per year, accrued at eight hours per month for those who work eight-hour days. For the 24-hours-on, 48-hours-off workers, 10.83 hours would accrue monthly, a total of 130 hours a year.
Every firefighter would receive a one-time allotment of 360 hours in their “bank,” when the new system begins, the city proposal states.
“We don’t want to limit your protection, but we got to put in a system that is equitable and fair and economically sustainable,” Commissioner Dwight Gardner said.
Gary Firefighters Local 359 President Jansen Rollins reminded the board that existing sick leave policy is a city ordinance, and the commission rule follows that.
“We never negotiated anything,” he said.
Rollins, several firefighters and commissioners agreed that baseline physicals are essential. Allen said the city would explore options for medical providers to conduct the physicals and when an independent doctor is needed to evaluate a firefighter’s condition.
A provision allowing firefighters to share their sick days with co-workers who need them should be included, Rollins told the board. Gardner countered that the practice has been “one of the most abused,” because at the end of the year, records appear muddled.
“If you allow it to be abused, that’s the city’s problem,” Commissioner Juana McLaurin said.
Council member Mildred Shannon, D-1st, said she supports the fire department and hopes a reasonable solution can be reached.
“We have to come to a good working process. We’re all going to have to give up some things, but will get some things,” she said.