Cleveland firefighters ok limits on shift trades

CLEVELAND, OH &#8211 Cleveland firefighters have agreed to limits on their trading of work shifts, curbing a practice that has allowed some of them to take off for months at a time.

The restrictions, approved in union voting Wednesday and Thursday, eliminate the unrestricted swapping highlighted in a recent city audit. In the most extreme case, auditors said, a firefighter worked the equivalent of three months in 2 1/2 years but continued to collect his $53,890-a-year salary.

Another firefighter lived for four or five months at a time in San Diego, then made up shifts in bunches. The firefighter did not hide his residency, submitting a form that was approved by supervisors.

The new agreement, separate from the union’s contract, caps the amount of time firefighters could owe or be owed at 144 hours, which is equivalent to six 24-hour shifts. That’s roughly what firefighters work in about three weeks. Firefighters also are prohibited from working more than 48 hours in a row while repaying time.
Capt. Frank Szabo, president of the firefighters union, declined to release the election results, saying he believed union procedures prohibited him from doing so. But he said passage should dispel perceptions of widespread abuse by firefighters.

“There’s no benefit here for them,” Szabo said. “We’re not getting any money out of this.”

Public Safety Director Martin Flask praised the firefighters’ decision, saying: “I think it’s good for the city, the citizens and for most of the firefighters.”
The internal audit, released Nov. 18, found other problems, including failure of firefighters to deduct sick time. Firefighters suggested that many of the problems stemmed from keeping records on paper. The city is computerizing the system.

Auditors have taken a deeper look, assisted by a police investigator and former federal prosecutor who are looking for evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
The follow-up audit had been expected by the end of January, but will not be ready for another two to three weeks, Flask said. The criminal investigation will take longer, he said.

From The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

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