Called out sick but attended a union rally

FREEHOLD, NJ – Three SCAT employees who claimed they were sick last Friday received suspensions today after county officials received proof of their attendance at a union rally.

The three were among 14 bus drivers and three office workers who called out sick Friday, Feb. 25, leaving 174 developmentally disabled adults waiting for buses that never came. The employees work for the county’s Senior Citizen Area Transportation (SCAT) service, and are members of CWA Local 1038. The suspensions are without pay pending the formal filing of disciplinary charges.

“This action by our SCAT employees is offensive to everyone because it adversely impacted our most vulnerable population,” Freeholder Director Robert D. Clifton said. “The Administration will continue its investigation into those who called out sick until we are satisfied that every employee who misused the county’s sick leave policy is disciplined within the constraints of the Civil Service process. This is a prime example of why Civil Service reform is needed.”

The SCAT office transported those determined to be the most essential riders – people with appointments for dialysis or other doctor’s care. SCAT activated its backup transportation contracts to cover a majority of the other rides. Sixteen other SCAT bus drivers did report to work that day.

“When the county learned that an insufficient number of drivers reported to work, steps were immediately taken to ensure that medical transportation was the top priority and was not disrupted,” Freeholder Amy A. Mallet said. “The county immediately began an investigation into the potential abuse of sick time, and this investigation continues. The vital responsibilities of the county’s Transportation Division far outweigh any individual or group agenda.”

The suspended SCAT employees who called out sick on Friday provided doctors’ notes. However, the county has obtained evidence that proves they had attended a rally outside the Statehouse in Trenton, which was held in support of unionized workers in Wisconsin over collective bargaining.

“Anyone who shrugs and abandons their contracted responsibilities should receive the strongest discipline allowed, up to and including termination,” Freeholder Deputy Director John P. Curley said. “They are responsible for aspects of government that are mandatory in dealing with public health, safety and well being.”

“These employees are being suspended without pay based on the fact that we have evidence to prove that they were not home sick as they had claimed,” Freeholder Lillian G. Burry said. “In the end I’m sure these employees knew what they were doing. This is further evidence that Civil Service needs to be reformed. I’m looking for our state legislators to fast track those reforms.”

“This is a perfect example of why I support Gov. Christie’s move to reform Civil Service, because at times like this when the system is abused we are prevented from taking the action we feel is necessary,” Freeholder Thomas A. Arnone said. “Hundreds of other employees came to work that day and provided excellent service to the residents of Monmouth County and they are to be commended.”