State to keep spying on firefighters who call out sick

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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey will continue to use private investigators to spy on Atlantic City firefighters and police officers who are on medical leave or out sick, a state spokeswoman said Tuesday, despite complaints from a union that it's a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The state contends the monitoring is working and has uncovered employees who were abusing the sick policy, which also costs the city money.

"This small minority of police officers and firefighters who abuse sick time adversely affect their fellow officers by worsening the city's labor costs through unnecessary overtime," said Lisa Ryan, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Community Affairs.

The spying was revealed when some firefighters noticed a car parked at length outside their homes and became concerned, calling police. Officers ran the tags, revealing they belonged to an investigator, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

John Varallo Jr., president of Local 198 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, told the newspaper that the union has no issue complying with sick checks, but called the private eye a "waste."

The city's fire and police departments are both required to ensure employees who call out sick are at home or a place of convalescence during the hours of their scheduled shift, Ryan said.

They are also required to conduct compliance checks to ensure firefighters and police officers who call out due to illness are actually sick.

Several months ago, she said it came to the attention of the city and state that there was a threatened abuse of sick leave so they hired an investigator, Ryan said.

Varallo said he was not aware of any threat by firefighters to abuse sick time, and blamed the state for leaving the department too short-handed to handle the sick time compliance in house.

The union is fighting the state in court over a threatened 11.3 percent pay cut that a judge has temporarily blocked.

The state assumed power over Atlantic City government under a takeover signed into law a year ago.

The private investigator has so far cost the city about $17,000, Ryan said.


Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer,

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