Friday, January 18, 2002

Military time off disputed

City firefighters argue leave rules

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati firefighters are pushing the patriotism button in their fight against what they see as a reduction in the time they can take off for military duty.

        A city ordinance says employees who are in the reserves or National Guard get up to 30 days' training time every year. The union and Fire Chief Robert Wright agree on that much.

        They part ways on how to interpret that 30 days, given that firefighters work 24-hour shifts.

        So the union, in letters delivered this week, reminded City Council members of the war on terrorism and of firefighters possibly facing call-ups to to active duty “in far-away lands and placed in harm's way.”

        Fire Lt. Mark Sanders, the union president, signed it: “God Bless America.”

        “Obviously, a firefighter's hours are much different from somebody who works 9 to 5 with weekends off,” Mr. Sanders said. “We don't want any firefighters' families to suffer any monetary loss.”

        Chief Wright said he doesn't oppose giving his firefighters 30 24-hour shifts off if they have legitimate orders to report to training. But doing so, he said, would send the department's bank account way into the red.

        “Somebody better increase my budget by about 3 or 4 million dollars,” the chief said, “to cover the overtime.”

        And he said the 30-day rule has never been interpreted as 30 “firefighter work days.” He called that part of the letter “just a lie.” But Lt. Sanders says it has — ever since he came to the department in 1984.

        About 20 of Cincinnati's 800 firefighters are in the military reserves or National Guard, Chief Wright said. This dispute does not affect any reservists called up to active duty. Another ordinance covers that pay.


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