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Sickout Cost County Fire Authority $104,500

Labor: Officials announce new scheduling and medical leave rules aimed at preventing another similar move.

September 27, 1997|SHELBY GRAD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — The Orange County Fire Authority said the sickout Wednesday by 114 firefighters cost the agency $104,500, and administrators announced new rules Friday aimed at preventing another job action.

Fire Authority officials said the sickout forced them to hold dozens of firefighters over for a second shift to assure that all 61 fire stations were staffed adequately. Employees who worked the double shifts were paid time-and-a-half, while the firefighters who did not show up for work received sick pay, according to a statement from the agency.

Fire administrators sent a memo to employees on Friday stating that the agency will now "require certification from a licensed doctor [or] registered nurse validating an illness or injury" for firefighters who call in sick. The memo also said that firefighters are prohibited from switching shifts or submitting new vacation requests "until further notice."

The action comes amid worsening relations between Fire Authority leaders and the Orange County Professional Firefighters Assn., which represents about 700 full-time firefighters.

Last week, the Fire Authority abruptly canceled its annual October open house, which draws thousands of adults and children to local fire stations. Officials said they canceled the event out of concern that firefighters might picket.

The firefighters complain that they are paid about 30% less than their counterparts in Los Angeles County and deserve higher salaries. But the Fire Authority's board of directors said it cannot afford raises at this time as it struggles to keep its budget in balance.

Orange County firefighters earn $47,000 to $89,000 in salary and supplemental forms of compensation such as bonuses and sick and holiday pay. Fire engineers earn $58,000 to $91,000, according to Fire Authority records.

The board unilaterally imposed a new contract on full-time firefighters in July. The contract provided no pay raises but did increase some benefits.

In response, hundreds of firefighters picketed outside Anaheim Stadium during a Labor Day baseball game, distributed fliers and have taken their case before several city councils.

Joe Kerr, president of the firefighters association, questioned Friday whether the Fire Authority could impose the new rules without first meeting with the union through collective bargaining.

"Morale is the lowest level I've ever seen," Kerr said. "The frustration level of firefighters has peaked."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Fire Funds

Orange County firefighters, demanding a raise, say they make 30% less than their counterparts in Los Angeles County. Here is a breakdown of salaries for three full-time positions at the Orange County Fire Authority:

*--*

Bottom Average Top Firefighter $47,000 $66,916 $89,000 Fire apparatus engineer 58,000 73,666 91,000 Fire captain 67,000 82,506 101,000

*--*

Source: Orange County Fire Authority

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