Green Bay first responders request city to reconsider COVID-19 paid coverage

Published: Nov. 10, 2020 at 5:42 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Green Bay Police officers and Green Bay Metro firefighters no longer have paid coverage for time off if they get COVID-19 or have to stay home with family members who have it, unless they request and receive workers compensation or use regular sick time they’ve already built up.

The City of Green Bay approved the extra coverage in the spring, and at that time, gave it an end date of November sixth.

Civilian employees still have the paid federally funded COVID sick time from the CARES Act through the end of the year.

As our area deals with a surge in coronavirus cases, police officers and firefighters want to see the city reconsider the coverage for those on the front lines.

“We can’t do the things that the state is asking us to do to stay healthy. We can’t socially distance. We can’t stay at home. We’re asked to serve the public in people’s homes,” explains Officer Phil Scanlan, president of the Green Bay Professional Police Association. “We’re responding to emergencies. We’re getting into cars of unknown people during crashes. We’re out in the open community with people that we don’t know. We don’t know their health history.”

And as the number of cases spreads like wildfire in the community, Scanlan says officers are concerned they could sick on the job and either take it home to their families or give it to other officers.

“If staffing is reduced to such a fact that we cannot effectively serve our community, it’s going to create a lot of problems for law enforcement,” explains Scanlan.

That’s why the GBPPA is hoping the city will consider extending paid COVID coverage for officers who need to stay home until at least the end of the year, when the benefit ends for civilian employees, too.

President of the Green Bay Area Fire Fighters, I.A.F.F. Local 141, Ryan Hintz, says “All of our members are on the front line of the COVID pandemic, working tirelessly to protect our cities and villages. We are in hopes that there will be future acts or legislation put in place to cover our members now and in the future until this is over. As you can see by today’s numbers, it is not going away anytime fast.”

He says the fire department has had positive cases among its staff.

While the police department mostly avoided COVID for months, that’s not the case recently.

“At one point, we had a significant portion of our detective division out with coronavirus. We had, just the other day, we had a few officers go out at once, in one day,” Scanlan says.

There are so many cases everywhere, the city’s human resources director tells us contact tracing can’t determine if an officer contracts COVID on the job or on personal time.

Scanlan says he’s unaware of any abuse of the time, adding, “This time isn’t being used for traveling or a vacation. It’s used for its purpose.”

By phone, Green Bay human resources director Joe Faulds told Action 2 News, while the federal funding through the CARES Act covered civilian employees, it exempted emergency first responders.

In return, he says the city created the paid benefit for police officers and firefighters above and beyond what was required.

To date, 96 police officers have used the COVID coverage, totaling a little more than $140,000 plus fringe benefits.

That is paid for through a federal grant that is part of the CARES Act.

Extending it would come from local funding, unless the federal grant is extended, perhaps as part of another stimulus package, but there’s no time frame on when or even if that might happen.

“We understand that sick time is a benefit. We understand that we have some benefits that maybe the private sector doesn’t have, but we also ask the citizens in the city to recognize that we are also doing things that the private citizens don’t have to do,” says Scanlan.

Faulds says, for now, officers or firefighters can file a workers compensation claim to see if they qualify for those benefits.

If an officer is out on quarantine, he says the department will try to provide work from home options if possible.

We also checked coverage policies with other municipalities.

Appleton officials tell us emergency paid sick leave is available until the end of the year for all employees, including full, part-time and seasonal employees, and it covers emergency responders who have to isolate or quarantine or who were experiencing symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis.

Appleton officials plan to discuss continuation of the benefit beyond the end of the year at an upcoming leadership meeting.

While there is not talk of extending the benefit in Green Bay, the city says the council could opt to do that.

Action 2 News will continue to follow this story and update as we learn more.

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