Chicago’s 911 emergency center is still struggling to get a handle on runaway overtime because 49 percent of call takers are on “some type of” absence tied to the Family and Medical Leave Act, aldermen were told Wednesday.
Testifying at City Council budget hearings, Alicia Tate-Nadeau, executive director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said the hiring of 48 additional call takers has reduced overtime by 28,000 hours over the same period last year. That should reduce overtime spending to $9.9 million, down $1 million from a year ago, she said.
But, rampant use of the leave act is still costing the city big-time.
“We have approximately 44 people every single day that call off. That’s about 49 percent of all of the 911 operators we have [who] are on some type of intermittent FMLA. Clearly, this number is much larger than it should be,” Tate-Nadeau said.
“Although I absolutely believe intermittent FMLA is a right of all of our employees, it is something I need to look at to ensure that it’s being utilized correctly. The challenge of intermittent FMLA is that they can call that very day and say, ‘We’re not going to be here.’ Whenever I hire folks back for overtime, I’m hiring them back at a minimum of time-and-a-half to two times the salary.”
FMLA entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave amounting to twelve work weeks in a 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons with continued health insurance.
Eligible reasons include: the birth of and care for the newborn child within one year of birth; adoption or foster care of a child within one year of placement; care of a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition or the employee’s own serious health condition that renders them unable to perform.
Employees can also qualify for circumstances stemming from the military service of a spouse, son, daughter, or parent. Covered employees may also qualify for 26 workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a member of the military who happens to be the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin.
“I need to get to the root cause. Why do we have an issue with intermittent FMLA? What’s causing or driving this to increase? I have some ideas of what I think that is, but I really continue to do my research. Once I’ve completed my research into this issue, I will be able to answer that question,” Tate-Nadeau said.
Tate-Nadeau said a recent “baseline” survey of employees who staff the 911 center floor pinpointed potential reasons for the alarming use of Family and Medical Leave.
Although they are deeply committed to their “incredibly stressful” jobs, morale is “poor” because they don’t like their schedules or working conditions and complain about “inflexibility” in how they can utilize vacation time.
“The way that I resolve that is I ensure that I work on the attrition issue … as it relates to overtime,” the director said, claiming to have addressed “90 percent” of survey gripes.
“I would have bad morale, too, if I walked into my job and someone said that, because someone else didn’t show up, I had to take away their lunch break, [or make them] stay longer because I didn’t have enough people to cover” positions.