Don't blame union for sick leave abuses

As your Clark County firefighters, we are responsible to you, the taxpayer, and, as such, we cannot excuse the behavior of a small number of firefighters who have repeatedly misused sick leave for personal gain. As professionals, we do not approve of such behavior. Anyone misusing sick leave should be punished appropriately.

It is now clear a good deal of this misuse could have been avoided; hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime was paid out while Clark County officials knew of this behavior. They never raised a finger to stop it, nor did they notify union officials this was occurring.

What is clear is county officials have had the tools and ability to police any abuse since 1983. Clark County Firefighters, Local 1908 worked with county officials to make certain those tools were in place. Later, as recently as 2006, our union suggested additional wording, making it even easier to police any such abuse.

You may ask how were things allowed to go this long unaddressed, with the county taxpayers paying money needlessly. You would imagine county administrators would be eager to solve such a problem, that they would approach the union and say, "There is a problem with sick leave use, let's come up with a plan to fix it."

You would imagine with hundreds of thousands, perhaps more than a million dollars at stake, that would be a priority. Sadly, that meeting never took place. We now know for certain, from the county's own documentation, that no later than July of last year, County Commissioner Steve Sisolak and county administrators knew of a problem, knew a few employees were misusing sick leave and never notified anyone in the union there was an issue.

It is important the public understand that we don't get sick leave reports on our members. We don't see vacation requests or the amounts of overtime paid to individual members. Those reports go to members of the administration, and only someone with knowledge of the staffing patterns could have uncovered such problems.

Firefighters get injured. They lift heavy loads, they work in dark, unsafe conditions.

When they are injured, they can't be returned to work like other employees while they are on the mend.

When a firefighter is injured on the job, his or her diminished capacity endangers the public and other firefighters working alongside. We were not made aware there was a problem.

Clark County administrators were aware. They pulled e-mails showing employees not only abused sick leave, but had also made such plans months in advance.

So the real question is why Commissioner Sisolak and county officials would allow taxpayers to be damaged by this ongoing practice of a few employees, knowing they were essentially throwing away taxpayer dollars?

This is what we would ask of Clark County administrators in the future: If you know of a problem, tell us. Let's work like adults to find a solution. If by working together, we can't find a solution to a legitimate problem, shame on us.

We know this, these sick leave abuses were wrong, committed by a small percentage who tarnished the reputation of those employees left to face the consequences. We promise we will work to bring these sick leave abuses under control.

Ryan Beaman is president of the Clark County Firefighters, Local 1908.