Salt Lake Fire Department Chief Peter Pederson served union fire-fighters who missed work during a so-called department "sick-out" with notice to appear before a "pre-disciplinary/termination hearing" board next week.
Angry union representatives, calling Pederson "a desperate man doing desperate things," charged the chief was engaging in "union-busting" tactics by intimidating legitimately ill firefighters.Forty-nine firefighters called in sick May 25 - the day mentioned in an anonymous letter suggesting fire-fighters stay home if they feel unfit for duty. The department closed five of 13 fire stations and called in off-duty reserves.
Under a policy issued by Pederson before the sick-out, firefighters calling in ill were required to provide doctor's verification of their illness. Union representatives said all those taken ill complied with the policy.
But Pederson now wants some of the 49 firefighters to appear before a review board next week. Some fire-fighters were served with written notices beginning Wednesday.
"The city has reason to believe that this claim (of illness on May 25) was, in fact, an abuse of sick leave," the notice read. Pederson also questioned the veracity of the doctors' notes.
"I think it looks like we've got an awfully desperate man at the helm" said Charlie Quick, president of the International Firefighters Association local 1645, calling the hearing "an act of intimidation and retaliation."
Pederson did not return phone calls made to his office, and a Fire Department secretary answering the phone said no one in the department was available to speak with the press Wednesday.
The hearing process was not a legitimate attempt at investigating the sickout. Rather, it was "union busting" in keeping with an anti-union sentiment that pervades Salt Lake City Hall, Quick said.
"I beleive that the entire atmosphere in Salt Lake City is to break the unions," he said.
Procedure will be followed to give union members due process, City Attorney Roger Cutler said.
An attorney may be present or a union member can be represented by a union representative, the written notice said.
Disciplinary action could be taken if deemed appropriate, Cutler said. Union members also could be fired, he said.