EAST CHICAGO | It was less than a celebration at the city's fire and police stations on New Year's Eve as details of an approved salary ordinance were distributed to public safety employees.
The ordinance, which was approved by the East Chicago Board of Public Safety and goes into effect Tuesday, reduced the amount of sick time and personal days police officers and firefighters are granted each year.
Mayor Anthony Copeland brushed off the concern about the reduction of time off, saying the ordinance was put together to avoid laying off public safety officials while increasing their presence in the streets.
“The budget cannot sustain hiring more police or fire,” he said. “The only recourse is to have them at work more often.”
Public safety officials previously were given 96 hours, or 12 days, in sick time. In the newly adopted ordinance, they are granted 48 hours, or six days.
“When they got 12 sick days, they took all 12,” Copeland said.
However, firefighters are concerned the sick time isn't enough for people who work in daylong shifts, East Chicago Firefighters Local 365 President Mike Wiedemann said.
“For the Fire Department, most guys work 24-hour shifts — that's only two call-off days for the whole year,” he said.
Sick days can be banked up to 480 hours because the city allows them to roll over from year to year, according to the ordinance. That's what the city had been asking public safety officials to do before the new contract terms were approved, Copeland said.
“Now, if they bank their sick days instead of blowing them off, they would have their sick days together in the event that something catastrophic happens,” Copeland said.
The absence of personal days being granted to public safety employees also was a cause for concern among the rank and file.
Copeland said although police and firefighters are upset they've lost time off, they should be happy that their salaries haven't been cut.
Fraternal Order of Police President-elect Sgt. Anthony Campos said officers haven't had raises in more than eight years and extra time off was compensation enough.
“These things have been honored by previous administrations being understanding because we haven't had a raise,” he said.
However, hard times and a tight budget has caused Copeland to make “very tough decisions,” including eliminating about 100 positions citywide since he took office in 2010.
“In these fiscal times, if you still have your job and your income is protected and you haven't lost anything, then in these times, you should feel better,” Copeland said. “You shouldn't be feeling worse, you should feel good. People are losing jobs and losing income, and neither of those things have happened to the Police or the Fire departments.”