Yonkers, NY — Following is an official statement by Mayor Phil Amicone in response to Yonkers Inspector General Dan Schorr's November 16, 2010 report titled "Yonkers Firefighter Sick Leave." ( Download IG Schorr's YFD Sick Leave Report – 16 November 2010 )The inspector general's independent review of sick leave within the Yonkers Fire Department was conducted at Mayor Amicone's request.
"The inspector general's report makes it clear that there is widespread abuse of departmental sick leave among the fire union's membership, which has cost Yonkers taxpayers millions of dollars over many years. We cannot and will not tolerate any further abuse and are taking immediate action against the union to stop the abuse, exercising every power we have available under the law.
"In plain language, the report uncovers a scam within the department where fire union members are intentionally calling in sick in order to generate overtime pay for their fellow union members. For every firefighter who calls in sick, we must pay another firefighter on overtime. In the end, fire union members generate much more in overtime wages than they lose on sick incentive pay. In the process, they are essentially stealing money from the taxpayers of Yonkers and are preventing the city from rehiring the firefighters who lost their jobs due to budget cuts.
"In addition, the report illustrates how the current sick leave policy, which is governed by the city's collective bargaining agreement with the fire union, lacks the necessary controls to prevent abuse. Accordingly, we are drafting a new policy that will give management the ability to more closely police sick leave within the department, eliminate abuse, and discipline those who are responsible for it. We must change the provisions within the union contract that enable and encourage this type of abuse.
"Let me state that I am deeply troubled by the findings of this report. Earlier this year, I asked the inspector general to look into potential abuse of fire department sick leave because the associated costs have been rising at an astonishing and unacceptable rate over the past several budget years. It was clear to me that an independent audit must be done in order to get to the root of the problem. But I was disappointed when the report revealed that the problem of sick leave abuse is much worse and more costly than I had suspected. As the report indicates, some members of the Yonkers Fire Department — but not all — have selfishly and habitually misused their sick leave time, and in the process have tarnished the image of the Yonkers Fire Department. And regardless of the department's sick leave policy or the union's collective bargaining agreement, there is still a personal responsibility on the part of each individual employee to do the right thing — a responsibility that has been too often neglected within the fire union, as the report shows.
"I believe that we have one of the finest, best trained fire departments in the country, and our firefighters regularly put their lives on the line for the people of this city. However, we cannot abide rampant abuses of departmental policies especially when they cost taxpayers millions in a time of economic hardship.
"Finally, it must be noted that the necessary measures to correct the sick leave policy and end sick leave abuse cannot be enacted without the cooperation of the fire union. New York State Labor Law prevents my administration from acting unilaterally outside the collective bargaining process. So I am calling on the fire department union to live up to its responsibility to the taxpayers of Yonkers and accept the policy changes and controls that will end this abuse. I am also asking the City Council and the public for their support as we take the necessary actions to correct this problem and prevent it from occurring again in the future."
– Yonkers Mayor Phil Amicone