MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) – Memphis firefighters have been missing a lot of work lately. The number of fire department employees calling in sick has skyrocketed since the employees were forced to take a 4.6 percent pay cut.
Sources tell abc24.com the employees are calling in sick to get back at the Wharton administration for pushing for the cuts in order to solve the city's budget woes.
“Morale is terrible,” says Larry Anthony, president of the Memphis Firefighter’s Association.
Anthony is aware of the large number of firefighters calling in sick, but says he is not aware of any formal action being taken by the group to protest their reduced wages.
“If they're sick, they're sick,” says Anthony. “I don’t believe people are taking days off. I think if they call in sick, they are sick.”
According to records, since the pay cut went into effect in July, more fire employees are staying home.
From July 1st to September 30th, records show 4,344 sick days were taken in the fire department. During the same time frame in 2010, Memphis firefighters logged a total of 3,656 days. That's an increase of 688 days in the three month period.
Because employees are calling in sick, other employees are being called in to work overtime to cover the shifts. The result is a rise in overtime costs for the city.
Overtime for the first quarter of the fiscal year was up $658,975 compared to the same time period in 2010.
“You have to have staff to go on runs," says City of Memphis Chief Administrative Officer George Little. "That means you either call in people or run overtime."
Little says in addition to the extra sick time, the overtime increase is also the result of more people leaving the department earlier than planned, and those positions are not being replaced. Little says the fire department is being reorganized and that's also contributing to the extra overtime.
“We’ve had people leave at a higher rate than anticipated,” Little tells abc24.com.
He also says he doesn't know why fire fighters are calling in sick at an increased rate, but he's keeping an eye on the situation.
“I am not aware of any conscious effort," says Little. "There may be morale issues there."
The top brass at the Memphis Fire Department is planning to retool the sick time policy. The details are being worked out. Administrators want the new policy to go into effect November 1, 2011.