As Memphis continues to find a cure of the “Blue Flu,” city government is also dealing with a possible case of the “Red Rash” as 65 firefighters have called in sick.
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The 65 firefighters are the highest number of sick calls the Memphis Fire Department has had in recent history.
MORE: Armstrong: ‘We’re In Crisis Mode’ With ‘Blue Flu’ Epidemic
It could be a sign that firefighters are joining the silent protest against city employee health care cuts.
“From this union’s perspective, we’re not endorsing any kind of job absence-action,” Memphis Fire Fighters Association Local 1784 President Tommy Malone said.
The MFFA has met with several firefighters saying support the Memphis Police Department, but don’t call in sick go to work, Malone added.
As of Wednesday almost four percent of the the fire department’s 1,500 employees are out sick. The goal is 28 or fewer calls each day.
“Our numbers are up just a little bit today, but that’s not something that hasn’t happened before, so to say we’re joining the ‘Blue Flu’ gang, if there is such a thing then that’s totally wrong,” Malone said.
Malone told rank and file calling in sick is not the way to handle the recent cuts in health care benefits.
“As far as this union is concerned, we will be fighting this fight the way we’ve been fighting it and that’s through information the taxpayers and the small businesses their getting screwed just like the workers,” he said.
Malone added the fire department has a strict sick policy when it comes to calling in sick.
“You have to call in 30 minutes before your shift, and if your off over two shifts you have to bring in a doctor’s note,” Malone said.
If firefighters are off longer than 30 days they will need a doctor’s note, Malone added. Also department chiefs will randomly visit those who call in sick.
“For our people to be sick you must be at home,” he said. “If you leave your home, you must check out to go to the doctor or to go to the store.”
Even encouraging firefighters to stay on the job, Malone said he doesn’t condone those who may call in sick, but he does understand.
“The city swears that if you work and earn a pension, we’re not giving you nothing, you earned a pension,” Malone said. “We’ll give you that pension and we’ll give you insurance for the rest of your lives, the city swore that too.”
During a news conference Wednesday afternoon Fire Services Director Alvin Benson said 40 firefighters called out sick, but he would not call this event a sickout.
Additionally four fire trucks have been browned out because of sick calls, but this is just a temporary fix.