Hutchinson City Council to vote on firefighter sick leave

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Hutchinson, Kan. -- Tuesday morning Hutchinson's City Council will be taking up what's been a contentious issue over their firefighter's sick leave policy.

President of the International Association of Firefighters local 179, Captain Wes Stewart, says the city's proposal to change the sick leave policy for firefighters would break a decades old promise to those first responders.

Stewart says, "We feel like this is a promise that has been given us over the years through our contract language and we would like to see the city keep that promise."

Stewart says, "Right now it's a very simple program. If you have hours left when you retire you get paid hour for hour up to a certain limit which right now is 360 hours. Or you can earn 360 hours with every perfect year of attendance for a total of 720."

As to the broken promise issue, City Manager John Deardoff says, in the contract talks everything is on the table for negotiation.

Deardoff says, "What we wanted to do was create a sick-leave payout policy that rewarded those employees with low utilization rates, unlike the current policy."

He acknowledges the sick leave policy is costing the city. "It is a fairly costly figure to the city every year."

Deardoff says the city's proposal will benefit employees also.
"The proposal that we have could actually benefit more employees.. So we actually cover more employees with the new payout program."

The union prefers to keep the policy as is. But Stewart says if the city is set on changing it to make if affective for new hires this year not earlier employees.

Stewart says, "There is some merit to this plan but we don't feel like it's fair to an employee that's been working here 20 years under a certain plan to all of a sudden just a few years out from retirement be changed to a new plan because we've run the numbers and 3/4th's of our members will either lose benefits or have nothing at all."

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