UPDATED – Monetized Firefighter Sick Time is Straight Up Rip-Off of Taxpayer

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Great, important and infuriating article in the Warwick Beacon a couple of weeks ago written by publisher John Howell. From city documents obtained by taxpayer advocate Rob Cote, it demonstrates that Warwick taxpayers are being compelled to needlessly pay for monetized, unused sick days.

An examination of payroll records and information provided by Fire Chief James McLaughlin show that virtually no paid sick leave is used by department personnel, and that at the end of the year department members get a bonus – in some cases more than $5,000 – for unused sick days.

The total cost to taxpayers for the calendar year ending Dec. 31, 2015, was $442,913.87.

The huge problem here is that the basis for this abuse – sick days – shouldn’t even exist but is a completely unnecessary addition to the firefighter contract because Rhode Island law, Title 45-19-1, effectively stipulates that firefighters and police officers (more specifically, “police officer, fire fighter, crash rescue crewperson, fire marshal, chief deputy fire marshal, or deputy fire marshal”) shall receive unlimited sick and injury days.

This is not a criticism of firefighters but of Warwick officials who have agreed to a contract which includes these completely unnecessary, utterly wasteful provisions funded by Warwick taxpayers. Ken Block, who had previously completed a statewide analysis of the high cost of Rhode Island fire departments, identifies in the article why elected officials have done so.

He reasons payment for unused sick time has simply become a means for elected officials seeking firefighter union support to bloat their pay without making it obvious to the taxpayers who have to foot the bill.

Two things.

1.) Warwick officials, you’re busted. This utterly wasteful practice is a rip-off of taxpayers and needs to end immediately.

2.) What other cities and towns are similarly abusing their taxpayers by including sick days in their first responder contracts? Remember, Rhode Island law (Title 45-19-1) makes sick days completely unnecessary. Accordingly, the presence in any police or firefighter contract of sick days – which can then be monetized and abused – is not out of necessity but due to the selfish motivation of that municipality’s elected officials.

UPDATE

After review of the law and contracts, Justin Katz contacted me to point out a couple of errors.

1. The RI law cited is not quite as blanket about on-duty sick and injury as indicated in my post and the Beacon article. Justin reports:

In order to get injured on duty (IOD) pay, personnel have to file affidavits that they received their injury or contracted their illness directly as a result of their work. Just catching the flu wouldn’t do it. There is justification for having some provision that allows emergency personnel to call in when they aren’t physically up for doing their job for some reason.

2. The Warwick police contract does, in fact, include provision for sick and injury days, though it is far more tightly capped than the fire contract.

The Warwick police contract currently in effect includes separate sections for sick time and injured on duty time, *as does the fire contract,* …

It doesn’t look like the police get to cash in their sick days. However, they do get 8 hours of “miscellaneous time” if they go six months without using sick days.



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