Norwich — The city police union on Monday joined a firefighters’ complaint about a city policy that requires them to use sick, vacation or personal time when dealing with COVID-19 they likely contracted on the job.
Michael Podzaline, president of the Norwich Fire Fighters Local 892, again criticized the city for failing to support paid firefighters during the pandemic. Podzaline spoke Monday during the City Council’s second public forum to gather input from residents and businesses on how to use nearly $30 million in American Rescue Plan grants over the next two years.
The council is slated to vote Sept. 7 on City Manager John Salomone’s spending plan for the first $9 million of the first year’s $14.6 million grant.
The firefighters’ union has filed a complaint with the state Department of Labor, and the Labor Relations Board will hold a closed-door hearing Wednesday.
Salomone said he cannot comment on the issue, due to the pending complaint.
At an Aug. 16 forum, Podzaline estimated Norwich firefighters have had 112 COVID-19 exposures or illnesses since the pandemic began, with some involving firefighters who stayed home rather than expose fellow firefighters.
On Monday, Police Officer Steve DeLoreto, president of UPSEU Norwich Police Local 104, claimed police have faced the same policy. DeLoreto cited examples in which he claimed officers responded to calls where they likely were exposed to COVID-19 and allegedlt were told by city leaders they could not prove they contracted the virus at work.
Both union leaders said the city allowed City Hall workers up to 80 hours of COVID-19 leave, even though many of them worked from home for the first year of the pandemic. They said they were not seeking direct pay for their union members but asked that the city use a small portion of the ARP COVID-19 relief money to restore their personal time off lost. DeLoreto said there are about 12 police officers and one dispatcher in his request.
“Can any of you imagine what it would be like to walk into a home not knowing if any of those within had COVID?” DeLoreto asked the council. “It happened to me at least a half-dozen times when the person I was interviewing mentioned they had COVID after the interview.”
He cited an example of an officer who routinely works “so much overtime he basically lives at the Police Department.” But DeLoreto claimed that when the officer contracted COVID-19, city leaders allegedly ruled he did not get it at work, DeLoreto said.
In another case, DeLoreto claimed an officer responded to an untimely death call and was ordered by the city not to return to work until he had a negative COVID test, allegedly forcing him to use his own time off.
“Placing the burden of proof on your police officers and firefighters is inappropriate,” DeLoreto said, “especially when doctors and scientists in the country are yet to fully understand COVID-19.”