HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Did the city of Houston deduct pay from firefighters who were forced to quarantine after possibly being exposed to COVID-19 while on the job?
According to the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, multiple firefighters reported paycheck deductions, some of which are nearly $2,000 per two-week pay period.
"The HPFFA has notified the command staff of the Houston Fire Department about the deductions," read the statement. "Firefighters that reported the problem to the city got a range of explanations - from 'paycheck coding mistakes' regarding sick leave to 'preventing sick leave abuse.'"
Citing HFD records, the union said firefighters faced 7,609 COVID-19 exposures through Sept. 1, with 1,281 quarantines, 253 positive tests, and two fatalities - including those of Capt. Leroy Lucio and Gerardo "Jerry" Pacheco.
"Houston firefighters are proud to be on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response, but docking their pay for mandatory, city-ordered quarantines is ridiculous," said HPFFA president Patrick "Marty" Lancton. "Because HFD is chronically understaffed by the city, the effects of 14-day COVID-19 quarantines are intensified. Instead of solving the staffing problem, which is a consequence of hundreds of recent firefighter and paramedic resignations and retirements, the HFD command staff is pursuing sick-leave conspiracy theories."
Meanwhile, HFD Chief Samuel Pena responded to HPFFA's claim, denying that he, the city or his command staff have not directed any pay docking involving quarantined firefighters:
"At my direction, HFD put in place a process to code any time off due to COVID-19 exposures in a way that WOULD NOT take time from any employees leave bank.
That policy has not changed.
Any coding errors entered by supervisors that have caused members to have sick time hours charged have been addressed through departmental memorandums and in person meetings with station District Chiefs.
When these errors are discovered they are corrected through the collaborative efforts of HFD Infectious Control, Classified Payroll and HR.
Neither the COH administration, nor the Command Staff at HFD, have put any directives in place to deduct time from any employees benefit leave or dock pay due to COVID-19 exposure."