Sun-Times Editorial Blasts CCDOC for Sick Calls; Ignores Union’s Point-of-View

On Friday, June 24, reporter Marlen Garcia from the Chicago Sun-Times called the union in regards to an editorial she was writing about officers possibly abusing their sick time due to the recent “lockdown” at the jail on Father’s Day. She said this was the opinion of the editorial board at the Sun-Times.

Local 700 Business Agent Dennis Andrews agreed to be interviewed. Of course, as we expected, the “opinion” editor only printed roughly half of a sentence that Dennis actually said out of the entire 13-minute interview.

Here is the link to the editorial: Click here to read it.

Below is what really transpired:

Marlen: “Just citing a pattern here of hundreds of call-ins, guards calling in sick, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday…Why is this happening? Why so many when it’s a holiday?”

Dennis: “I would assume that they are sick. They are using their earned benefit time.”

Marlen: “Did you say their earned benefit time?”

Dennis: “Yes.”

Marlen: “Okay. We believe this is causing a problem at the jail when this happens.”

Dennis: “Who is we?”

Marlen: “The editorial board at the Sun-Times.”

Dennis: “That’s who we is. Okay. You feel it’s causing a problem at the jail?”

Marlen: “Yes, when hundreds call in sick.”

Dennis: “That alleged lockdown wasn’t really a lockdown. There was medical movement, there were visits, recreation, programs – so it was not a true lockdown.”

Marlen: “Okay. Well let me ask you a different question first. We understand that Father’s Day weekend, they started routing calls from the medical call-in center to superintendents who supervise the guards, so they could talk to the guards themselves when they called in sick…”

Dennis: “They are officers, not guards.”

Marlen: “Okay, thanks for that correction. I guess this didn’t go over so well because a grievance was filed?”

Dennis: “Yes, our contract doesn’t say for you to have to call your superintendent to call in medical – you call in to the medical line. That’s how the procedure is set up and that is how it’s always been. We have 100 class action grievances filed this year alone against Tom Dart and his staff violating our contract and changing it based on how they feel things should be. Let me ask you this – did you ask them what that superintendent said to the officers when the calls went to their line?”

Marlen: “No, can you tell me?”

Dennis: “Yes. First of all, they weren’t all there, so some of the calls went to an automated line that said ‘Happy Father’s Day.’ So that’s where it went, to an automated line in the superintendent’s office that said ‘Happy Father’s Day.’”

Marlen: “So some got messages that just said ‘Happy Father’s Day’ and some superintendents that answered just said ‘Happy Father’s Day’ to the people calling in?”

Dennis: “Yes.”

Marlen: “So are you saying that every superintendent that answered gave that reply?”

Dennis: “No, that’s not what I said. I said some of the superintendents were at home and there was an automated message in their office that said Happy Father’s Day when they got transferred. So there was really no purpose but just to harass the officers that called in.

Marlen: “When I asked why they did that, they said it was to discourage officers from calling in.”

Dennis: “If someone is sick, how is that going to discourage them? It just makes someone feel worse when they have to go through these changes when they are trying to call in. That’s earned sick time. People should not come to work when they are sick. That is their paid sick time. And they shouldn’t have to worry about having to buy groceries by not coming to work. So those are their paid sick days.”

Marlen: “Paid sick days – or they take FMLA?”

Dennis: “FMLA is authorized by the Sheriff’s Department. They don’t just go and get an FMLA day. They have to fill out their packets, go to their doctors, and get it approved by the department. It has to be approved by the department for someone to be on FMLA. And I’m not going to question the integrity of the officers who put their lives on the line every day that they walk in there on if they are sick or not sick, and I’m not going to question it. They have integrity. They do a job that most people wouldn’t do. Did the Sheriff’s department also address with you in the one Division how there are 50 people off on duty injury from inmate attacks?”

Marlen: “No it didn’t come up.”

Dennis: “Well there are 50 officers that are off duty on duty injury because they were attacked by inmates. There are a huge amount of officers getting semen, urine…” (cut off)

Marlen: “I’ve read about that actually.”

Dennis: “Did you know there were over 1,700 attacks on officers there, whether is was sexual assault or aggravated battery, since 2010?”

Marlen: “Are you saying this contributes to the illnesses for when they call in sick?”

Dennis: “Yes it does. There are 9,000 people there – 9,000 detainees coming in and out bringing in all these illnesses and sicknesses, whatever they are. They officers are exposed to that every day and then they take it home to their families too, to their loved ones.”

Marlen: “Do you believe that there is any possibility that some of them are abusing the system?”

Dennis: “I believe they have integrity. I don’t believe they are abusing it. Anyone that makes that accusation better be very careful because you’re not doctors. You’re not a doctor and can’t say if someone was sick or not sick. You’re not a doctor to say if someone needed to use a FMLA day or didn’t need to use it.”

Marlen: “When you have a pattern like this…”

Dennis: “FMLA is a pattern. You get so many days in a month, or so many days in a week because that’s when your illness might come. So if you’re taking off two days a week because you have gout, that’s gonna be a pattern. Is it not?”

Marlen: “Well that’s not the pattern I am talking about. I’m talking about Super Bowl Sunday, hundreds calling in sick. I’m talking about Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, a big boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. When the numbers go off the charts as far as call ins, doesn’t that hurt the reputation of unions? It looks an abuse to the public. Doesn’t that give unions a bad name? Hey, I’m pro union and I have this concern.”

Dennis: “What concern do you have?”

Marlen: “That these guys are abusing the system.”

Dennis: “That’s your opinion.”

Marlen: “I know. And I work for this paper.”

Dennis: “I understand that’s your editorial board’s opinion. That’s your opinion. But understand, do you have proof that they’re abusing the system?”

Marlen: “We have questions. And we are raising those questions.”

Dennis: “Okay, then you’re gonna put that out in this newspaper article that these people are abusing the system.”

Marlen: “No we are asking questions. And we have major concerns. And we are raising our concerns and asking the questions.”

Dennis: “But you don’t have facts.”

Marlen: “You know, well, I don’t think you don’t either.”

Dennis: “What facts do I need? That’s someone’s personal business, ma’am. Their FMLA is protected by HIPPA, which is another federal law. I can’t go ask someone what they have FMLA for and if they legitimately used it.”

Marlen: “I can respect that, but that’s what leads to the questions and the concerns. It’s all about the pattern and the tendency for hundreds to call in. But I will say this – I hope on the 4th of July, these people are feeling better.”

Dennis: “So do I. But if they’re not, they need to use their sick time, because that’s their earned sick time. People should not come to work sick.”

Marlen: “I absolutely agree.”

Dennis: “Did you question what’s the average daily call in at the jail?”

Marlen: “I have a lot of numbers. I do believe they gave that to me.”

Dennis: “Do you know how many buildings that affected?”

Marlen: “I don’t know if I have that.”

Dennis: “It’s not like there are 300 people in one location that called in sick.”

Marlen: “I believe that, given the range of the facility.”

Dennis: “There are multiple buildings and multiple units. So if you add all that together, the number is not that staggering. It might be 10 a building.”

Marlen: “Alright. Listen, I appreciate your time. I really do. And I know it is really tough work.

Dennis: “If you’re really interested, look into the duty injuries, look into the staff that’s getting hurt and how nothing is being done and there is no protection. We need a leader, not a politician. He needs to lead. He’s the chief law enforcement officer in Cook County. He needs to get in there himself. He hasn’t stepped foot in the jail in probably four or five years – unless he is attending an inmate graduation. Someone needs to look into those things – how the officers are getting hurt every day and getting terminated for defending themselves. Someone needs to look real hard at that administration and things they are doing and ask the real questions.”

Marlen: “I hear you, I hear you. But Cook County taxpayers have a right to be concerned too, because they are paying for the overtime for the shifts that are being covered.”

Dennis: “Shouldn’t they be concerned too that they are paying for the officers that are out on duty injury and disability?”

Marlen: “Yeah, well we’ll have to take that up another time.”

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