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Published: Monday, 9/26/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Fire chief presses ahead with home visits

Union challenging sick-day crackdown

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Santiago Santiago
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Toledo’s fire chief is not backing down on city firefighters who call off sick.

Chief Luis Santiago, who has been in charge of the department for less than three months, has made it a priority to crack down on alleged sick-time abuse, and in a letter to the union representing firefighters, he promised to “investigate any potential dishonesty.”

The union-management dispute started earlier this month when Chief Santiago started sending battalion chiefs to the homes of firefighters out sick — regardless if they are on what is known as the department’s sick list, which is made up of firefighters who used four or more sick days the previous year.

By contract, anyone on the sick list can expect a visit at home from a commanding officer when they stay home ill. But Chief Santiago this month said sick-time usage has become “a big problem.” He said calling off sick without being sick is a contract violation, so he was within his right to send a commanding officer to check up on any firefighter.

Toledo Firefighters Local 92 filed a grievance on Sept. 16, which was rejected by the chief three days later.

Local 92 President Wayne Hartford, in his grievance, asked the chief to stop the new homes-visit practice because the contract only allows him to visit those on the sick list.

Toledo fire department officials said sick time has contributed to the department’s massive 2011 overtime bill — which is already over-budget for the year.

During the month of August, 137 firefighters called off sick, and in response, the department had to call in 68 firefighters on overtime to cover those missed shifts.

That included 19 firefighters who called in sick over the weekend of Aug. 26 through Aug. 28 — an average of about six during each of the three days, which is double the usual rate of two or three daily sick call-offs, the chief said. Each extra call-in on overtime costs the city about $1,000 because it’s a 24-hour shift, paid at time-and-a half.

Since taking over the department, Chief Santiago has increased the penalties for firefighters caught abusing the sick-time system. A firefighter recently was given a 24-hour suspension — which means one single shift — after the firefighter was caught violating the sick policy, but the chief has told the union he’s considering making it a 240-hour suspension.

The grievance could go to arbitration or before the city’s three-person civil service commission.

Mr. Hartford said the union has worked with the chief on addressing sick time usage.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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