Numbers show firefighters abusing sick days

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Council members say they’re not attacking firefighters and they respect their work, but they don’t respect the fact the mayor and the union can’t come together in a time when money is so tight.

Councilman Kemp Conrad said, “When you got six times more people out on the first and last work day than you do on the one day where if you don’t come to work you get paid, then that shows something’s wrong”

A shocking number of firefighters are currently using their sick days to extend their weekends, but it seems no one is sick on holidays for the holiday pay.

“People say, ‘Oh you’re attacking the firefighters.’ I’m not saying there is rampant abuse, I’m saying the policy is broken,” Conrad said.

This policy was agreed to by the union and the Wharton administration, but now Conrad says it’s time to come together on a new deal, because the current “egregious policy” is being abused.

The cost of these sick days is up 40 percent in the fire department, compared to 12 percent across the rest of city government, which is a red flag.

Alvin Benson is the Director of Fire Services for the City of Memphis.

He said,  “I’m not naive enough to think it doesn’t happen in the department, I know it does, but we have to have the tools to work with to bring to reform in that area.”

Benson says he’s been asking for a new deal for three years because he can’t afford cuts to the budget that take boots off the ground. And he can’t afford to pay his crew overtime, so instead they pull trucks off the street.

Wednesday, two trucks were out of service because of firefighters calling out sick.

Benson added, “Times are changing. So we have to make some tough choices, which includes MOUs and policies and how we can best affect those things for the city.”

Both sides brought up the idea of a short term disability program for firefighters who get hurt on the job, that way they don’t have to use their sick days, which could help cut costs for the city.