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December 22, 2014

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County finds more widespread abuse of firefighter sick leave

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Steve Marcus

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, shown in this file photo from last year, is calling for an investigation into firefighter sick leave.

Sick leave abuse

KSNV coverage of county reports of widespread abuse of sick leave within fire department, Feb. 1, 2011.

Edward Finger

Edward Finger

Chris Giunchigliani

Chris Giunchigliani

Abuse of sick leave by Clark County firefighters was more widespread than union officials acknowledged, county officials reported Tuesday.

More than a third of firefighters used more than month’s worth of sick pay last year, officials said. While some firefighters had legitimate reasons to use sick leave, evidence shows some did not and gamed the system to make extra money and take longer vacations, officials said.

Assistant County Manager Ed Finger presented county commissioners an abbreviated version of his testimony to an arbitrator who recently sided with the county in contract negotiations with the firefighters union.

The report details how firefighters were able to use massive amounts of sick leave and vacation time to take extended periods off work, even while working overtime and avoiding having to provide proof of illness.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak said the firefighter’s actions are criminal and he has asked the district attorney, the sheriff and the FBI to investigate.

Firefighters, who work 24-hour shifts, filled 7.8 percent of their work year in 2009 with sick leave, Finger said.

Battalion chiefs used sick leave to cover 5.6 percent of their shifts and 8- and 10-hour fire department employees used 3.4 percent.

County employees who are members of SEIU used sick leave to cover 4 percent of their scheduled, while Park Police officers and deputy sheriffs used it to cover 3 percent, and county management employees used sick leave for just 1.6 percent of their schedules, Finger said.

Analysis of sick leave usage showed firefighters with between 25 and 30 years of experience used the most sick leave, taking off about one in every six shifts, Finger said.

While older firefighters might be expected to have more injuries and take more sick leave, Finger said, the same group also worked the most overtime and call back time.

Union officials have previously said that only a small group of firefighters were abusing sick leave and that firefighters’ high pay was largely the result of overtime they were forced to work because of short staffing.

“There are lots of employees who don’t abuse sick leave, but it’s more than a few” who do, Finger said. A total of 98 percent of overtime and call back was worked voluntarily, he said.

Union officials also claim the abuse of sick lave was the result of a lack of oversight by fire department administrators and that if chiefs wanted to crack down on it, they could have.

But Finger told county commissioners that the union’s contract prevented officials from requesting a doctor’s note unless the firefighter took four days of sick leave in a row. And even if there was obvious abuse, the union contract offered no punishments, Finger said.

To keep from being caught, firefighters would alternate sick days with vacation days. One firefighter even had a scheduled vacation day, canceled it, then called in sick and took the day off anyway, Finger said.

Finger presented charts showing actual firefighters’ schedules. One firefighter used a combination of regular time off, vacation and sick time to have 23 days in a row off work, but never had four days of consecutive sick leave.

Another firefighter took four and half months worth of sick leave last year but never four shifts in a row, so officials could not investigate it. The same employee worked more than 2,200 hours of overtime and made more than $200,000 last year, Finger said.

The county first approached the firefighters union in March and said the sick leave abuse needed to be addressed in contract negotiations, Finger said. The county asked that the new contract allow officials to request a certificate of illness from a doctor whenever they suspect abuse.

But union negotiators said they would only allow the medical proof if there were more than 12 sick days used in a year.

As the county prepared for arbitration last summer, sick leave abuse was a major consideration for the county, Finger said. So county officials searched firefighters’ e-mail records to find evidence of abuse. Officials found firefighters coordinated their sick leave with other firefighters and with their supervisors.

One firefighter e-mailed a request for time off, saying he would be in Alaska and asking his supervisor to use vacation time and sick leave to take the time off, Finger said.

During negotiations with the arbitrator, the county eventually scaled back the sick leave provisions, with the final contract saying officials can request proof of illness when there are more than five sick leave days used in a year, but the contract still offers no punishments for abuse.

Commissioners said they were appalled by the abuse and said it will continue to be an issue as the county and union prepare for negotiations for the next labor contract, which is due in July.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said she was disappointed in how widespread the problem was.

“Many of us were under the illusion it was just a handful, and if you look at this document, you see that it’s not,” she said, referencing a report from the arbitrator.

Ryan Beaman, president of International Association of Fire Fighters 1908, said he was willing to work with county officials to eliminate the abuse, but said it was the management that needed to institute the change.

“The fire chief can’t turn a blind eye to these issues,” Beaman said. He said he thinks change will come through new chief Bertral Washington, who was appointed in November.

Commissioners pushed back, saying it was the responsibility of everyone in the department to be part of the change.

Commissioner Larry Brown said it was up to each firefighter individually to work with the union and management to bring improvements to the department.

Sisolak said he thinks firefighters should be responsible for their colleagues, just as college students can be punished if they know their peers are cheating and don’t report it.

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  1. If they violated the law-FIRE THEM.

  2. Remind me, what is it called when someone defrauds the government?

    Oh that's right, a crime. At least it used to be.

    Let's see if Mr. Rogers prosecutes these crimes as vigorously as he does for those against the lower socio-economic classes who can't defend themselves.

  3. I want to know how anyone could negotiate those terms and not be aware of the potential for probable abuse. Even more, how could anyone approve those terms and not expect this to happen?

    Look at who negotiated and approved the contract, then ask yourself if they should ever be elected to office again.

  4. Folks, the commission and management knew this was going on for a VERY long time. Now they want to act like they just discovered this? The firefighters and the whole bunch at the county are cockroaches. It's the same at Henderson, North Las Vegas, and the City of Las Vegas fire departments.

  5. With a union official sitting on the county board of commissioners, who do all the negotiating for union contracts, what would you expect? The stupid voters elected a fox to guard the hen house. What did they expect? You got what you voted for dummies.

  6. Commissioner Steve Sisolak said the firefighter's actions are criminal and he has asked the district attorney, the sheriff and the FBI to investigate. - Sisolak

    "Criminal"?

    What specific laws were violated?

    Perhaps county taxpayers should begin filing law suits targeting public officials practicing malfeasance with public funds?

    And for those believing such abuses are only confinded to county firefighters - LOL.

    : {

  7. Ronster, Thats a pretty big accusation to make about the other Valley Fire Departments. Obviously the County proof is out, but please dont group everyone else into this catagory, its just not true.

  8. And by the way, that same union head now is running for mayor. He must figure you were dumb enough to elect him the last time you will be dumb enough to fall for his "game" again. He's probably right.

  9. Crooks.

    plain and simple.

    they should be summarily fired, tried, and sent to prison.

    and HL9000, you other fire"fighter" clowns in this city have the same type of cushy overpaid job.

  10. To Ronster, If we (All Valley Firefighters) are cockroaches, you will never be able to get rid of us.

  11. Hello, where's the Justice System in Las Vegas? Isn't this Grand Larceny, a crime? Isn't this fraud? Is this not conspiracy? I thought these were crimes. Haven't the firemen lost the publics trust? How much do we have to pay before someone takes criminal action against these PUNK-LOSER fire firefighters? This needs to be investigated back at least ten years, every single person in this union has to be investigated and prosecuted. Monkey commits murder, murder not crime. Monkey commits fraud, fraud not crime too. Guess what, time to put out of control monkey, DOWN.

  12. I would like to thank Steve Sisolak for being the one guy willing to do his job and go the extra mile when others either wouldn't or are bought and paid for by the unions. Sisolak has continued the fight even while receiving death threats and other such abuse. We need more like him. Without him it all continues.

    Chris Giunchigliani on the other hand represents everything that is wrong with government. Where's the outrage Chris? And who deceived you? What a joke! I hope you find the unemployment line soon.

    The final solution is to do away with public employee unions. They are a crushing parasite on society.

  13. In the previous town where I lived, a school board member was a Union Business Agent. He divulged the School Board's confidential bargaining strategy and financial capabilities to the unions representing the teachers and the classified personnel. When he was caught at it and exposed for violating his fiduciary obligation to the School Board, he was hardly contrite. They are often politicians or board members for a specific purpose.

  14. LV fire fighters are lazy uneducated parasites. Do you know what happens in the real world when you take advantage of sick days? YOU GET YOUR ASS FIRED! BTW, 200K/yr for a job that any high school drop out could do is a complete joke. Too bad the joke is on us tax payers. Fire fighters have become the shame of this community.

  15. The citizens of this county deserve better. Fire all the firefighter involved with this abuse and the supervisors who allowed this to happen. There are plenty of firefighters across the country who would love the work and you can count on their integrity. I don't buy the fact that they were padding their retirement because, most public employees sick time will count as timed served towards retirement. They did it strickly for the cash. They acted as though they were under paid, I bet if you looked at where they lived and the types of vehicle and other luxury items they have, we the citizens were just support their lavished life style. The union is at fault too, they act as though they were victims of this scam but they knew exactly what was occurring, why do you think they ask for a contract like this in the first place. I hope the county commission now realizes that the firefighter's union cannot be trusted to police themselves and will use this abuse as an example of how dishonest they can be during negotations.

  16. This is a duplicate post from another story, but I feel so strongly about what the Clark County firefighters have done that I want to post it here, too.

    From now on, what will you think when a child says "I want to be a firefighter when I grow up!"

    Will they say that because firefighters are the most noble of all public servants? Or because they can milk the system and steal from the taxpayers like there is no tomorrow?

    To every member of the Clark County fire department, I want you to look in the eyes of my 10yr old and 12yr old and tell them you deserve their respect. If you can't do that, quit your job and make room for someone who deserves it!

  17. Screw years of hard work at medical, law or business school. Just join the LV fire department and become wealthy on the backs of Las Vegas tax payers!

  18. To boftx, Really!.. Wow!. Just pitiful!!!!.

  19. keep on posting Tundra!

    you are BURYING yourself!

    when the FBI seizes your computer to read the emails where you colluded to scam sick time hours, they will get copies of your sun posts, and these CAN and WILL be used against you in a court of law.

    and guess what then "hero"? when you go to prison for fraud and theft and corruption and racketeering, those things Jamal and Alberto will be dangling in your face won't be fire hoses........

  20. Tundra,

    There are two posters on this board who are firefighters who have my respect for taking part in honest discussion even though we disagree: croc1 and Buddy. I would have no problem having them over to my house for some BBQ and cigars.

    You, on the other hand, have consistently discounted the opinions of those of us who think there is reason for concern.

    I am willing to meet you somewhere for a couple of drinks (I prefer Scotch) to discuss this matter and see if we could at least agree to disagree with respect for each other. Just send me an email via the Sun to set it up.

  21. The arrogance of these firefighters in unbelievable. They played the system real good with phony overtime. No firefighter is worth $200,000. Cut the overtime to the bone and have an independent accountant review and approve all overtime. If these guys are unhappy then let them find another job. Trust me in industry they would be paid like one half of what they are getting paid. Fed up with these bozos.

  22. I should point out that I did not mean to imply that I do not respect other firefighters who post here. I mentioned croc1 and Buddy in particular because we have had discussions directed to each other and I am comfortable in saying we have a mutual respect for each other even though we disagree.

    I have no doubt that most of our firefighters are not happy with the way their image has been tarnished by the actions of their brethren.

  23. There aren't any innocent firefighters. You were participating in the scam, or were aware of the scam. Which firefighter came forward to blow the whistle? NONE. Which firefighters voted against the contract because it facilitated fraudulant practices? None. You've taken advantage the good people of this valley.

  24. This IS why the public resists tax increases on all levels. Trust in publc services has been lost.

    The firemen's pay is NOT a new problem. It has only come to the surface in light of the budget problem. Keep looking at county expenses and you will find more waste, fraud and abuse.

  25. I would be a firefighter for my current salary (which isn't even half of $200K) just based off the appeal to the opposite sex. Seems crude, but it's true. This abuse of the system by the firefighters is outrageous.

  26. These allegations against the firefighters may be true. However, the County Commissioners are hypocrites. How many of them have gone to prison in recent years? Remember the County Commissioners, especially Sisolalak and Giunchigliani are all lying crooks. They are dirty politicians and you cannot trust anything they say. Look at their history. This needs to be investigated by The Clark County DA, State Attorney General or FBI WITHOUT THE CORRUPT influence of the Clark County Commission.

  27. @botfx: I wouldn't mind sitting down and having drinks with some of the people commenting on here.

  28. Harley: If you've been paying attention the allegations are that they violated the RICO act. What they've done is not much different than say...Medicare fraud.

  29. sick_of_u_haters - you're obviously a fireman's wife. Hopefully you're husband isn't one of the crooks. And to think that people on these boards don't know about Sisolak's lawsuit is naive. If you want to defend your husband and his profession, try doing it with some more class.

  30. Actually, SICK_OF_U_HATERS, I have complained often and loudly about every item on your list above.

    Brian Greenspun had a recent editorial about "The company we keep." What does it say about how the public perceives the CCFD to have it associated with the list you think is more deserving of our attention?

    Those other items are indeed worthy of our attention, but the CCFD situation is being decided now, and will come up again in a few months after new negotiations are complete. So now is the time we need to let our elected officials know what we want them to do.

    Further, if you read my comments, you'll see that I blame our elected officials just as much as the union for allowing this kind of abuse to be possible in the first place.

    And yes, the topic of Sisolak's lawsuit has been brought up many, many times in connection with this discussion.

  31. A copy of the CCFD contract was made available on the Sun here: http://media.lasvegassun.com/media/pdfs/...

    Sick leave is discussed in Article 16. It should be noted that this Article takes over 8 pages to cover, and is exceeded in length only by the discussion of grievance and arbitration procedures and the substance abuse policy.

    In particular there is a provision for sick leave to be denied if policy abuse is suspected by the CCFD leadership. It is clear from the email posted by Jon Ralston that the leadership was aware of the practice of some members and did nothing about it other than to say "At least try to look like you are following the rules."

    The entire contract is an interesting read, just don't do it anytime close to a meal. Take a look at Article 2, paragraph 2 as well. And then ask yourself why any public union contract should have such a clause.

  32. My bad, it is over 6 pages in length, not 8.

  33. s_o_u_h - it's really unfortunate that you don't have the deductive abilities to determine what people on the Sun's boards discuss. You're in a tizzy because your husband is a firefighter and you've posted on here all of what, maybe 6 times. Guess what? this article is on the Firefighters abusing sick pay, not Sisolak's lawsuit. Frankly, what do you expect to be discussed after this article? All things that don't pertain to the firefighters abuse of the system apparently.

  34. an investigation will determine what % of firefighters abuse the system. All the firefighters I know have used sick days like vacation days. Why? Because when they became firefighters everyone was doing it.

  35. You can find the CCFD shift calendar here: http://www.iafflocal1908.org/index.cfm?s...

    Basically, a firefighter works a 24hr shift every other day for 9 days (5 shifts) then has 6 days off and the cycle begins again.

  36. unsilent, I haven't bothered to look up the studies, but I'm sure they use a 24hr shift because of response times. If the starting time is chosen correctly, it could actually reduce O.T. if there is a pattern to when most fires start and how long it takes to deal with them. Eight hour shifts would probably increase O.T. when fire duration is taken into account.

    On the other hand, I think firefighters should not get O.T., but be paid a straight salary (at an appropriate level.)

    They should also treat sick leave as use it or lose it instead of letting it accrue over years. It is no wonder that most of the abuse seems to be by those who are getting ready to retire, they have years worth of sick leave to take advantage of. Vacation is one thing to accrue, but I have never had a job where sick leave accrues.

  37. No, doubleu, most of us are complaining about how the system is being gamed by some so that our tax dollars are going undeservedly into their pockets when those dollars should be going somewhere else, like the schools.

    That is essentially fraud. Most employees would be fired immediately for such actions. And if organized, they would be charged.

    I think I speak for most reasonable people when I say I believe paying taxes is the correct thing to do for essential community services such as police, fire and education. At the same time, I expect to get fair value for the taxes I pay without fraud or waste.

    It has become abundantly clear that some members the CCFD have engaged in both in a systematic fashion, either with or without the tacit approval of our elected officials.

  38. What damns the CCFD leadership are the emails that Jon Ralston posted earlier this week that convinced the arbiter to side with the county instead of the union. Those emails clearly establish that the CCFD leadership had knowledge of a pattern of behavior that can be characterized as a conspiracy to defraud.

    Furthermore, the contract specifically mentions abuse of the sick leave policy, which means that the negotiators were aware of what might happen.

    Those two facts add up to possible criminal charges against those who participated in whatever fashion in this activity. What is of even further interest is that though the contract mentions abuse, it provided no specific sanctions or remedies other than denial of sick pay if suspected.

    Any person in a position of leadership who approved of these activities should be guilty of mis-appropriation of government funds at the very least.

  39. Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said....
    "Many of us were under the illusion it was just a handful, and if you look at this document, you see that it's not," she said, referencing a report from the arbitrator.

    Delusion is more like it, Madam Mayor Wannabe

  40. "Claw Back" is what is needed here - those that manipulated taxpayer funds for their own personal benefit should BE REQUIRED TO PAY BACK WHAT THEY TOOK ILLEGALLY!

  41. SO: How many actual FIRE FIGHTING Hours do they experience on the average? How many Fires/month does one person respond to? three?

  42. azsk8fan,

    The way the benefits package works it will always be cheaper to pay the OT than hire more people. Which in turn gives some of them an incentive to game the system to increase that OT.

    The only real cure is to put them on straight salary or to run short-handed when someone is out sick.

    A report published by Ralston a few days ago shows that when the county decided to run short-handed on battalion chiefs instead of calling one in on OT the amount of sick time taken decreased by 80% in one year. If the very top level was using the scam, is it any surprise that it is widespread further down?

  43. Does "sick of u haters", in her job as a nurse, use the math that determined that 38.3% (of county firefighters abusing sick leave) actually is only about 2%?

  44. If the payroll dept. used her math: her gross pay would be reduced by 94.8%. How arrogant would she be then?