Parker accused of turning her back on firefighters injured in deadly motel blaze

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by Shern-min Chow / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on June 21, 2013 at 11:35 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 24 at 9:42 PM

HOUSTON -- Firefighters are accusing the City of Houston of shortchanging benefits to injured firefighters who survived the devastating Southwest Inn blaze.

KHOU 11 News obtained a copy of an email sent to Houston city council members complaining about using both their federal and local benefits at the same time, rather than one after the other.

The email comes after the deadliest fire in the history of the Houston Fire Department. Four firefighters were lost, 15 injured and three of them seriously injured in the Southwest Inn inferno on May 21.

The tragedy touched the city and Mayor Annise Parker.

“To think about what the job of firefighters is and the dangers they face very day,” Parker said.

Now just three weeks later, Parker is accused of turning her back on the firefighters.

“The behavior is reprehensible,” said Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Jeff Caynon.

Caynon says the three most seriously injured firefighters contacted him saying they got a letter from the city advising them that their FMLA benefits would run concurrently with workers compensation benefits.

The Family Medical Leave Act allows a worker up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Worker’s Compensation pays an employee when he is injured on the job. When the firefighters go back to work they may not have any FMLA left to use for future emergencies.

It’s legal.

“Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should,” Canyon said.

Below is a response from the Houston Police Officer’s Union and HPFFA President Jeff Canyon:

"We have no knowledge about this specific situation with the firefighters. However, our experience has been that a decision like this is made by an outside third party administrator, not the city. Each time we have contacted Mayor Parker about similar decisions, she has always reversed them so that our officers are treated fairly. I expect she will do the same for our brave men and women at the Houston Fire Department."

Ray Hunt

Houston Police Officers' Union

 

June 21, 2013

Dear Council Member Gonzalez,

The women and men of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association are extraordinarily disappointed, but frankly not surprised, by the City of Houston’s behind-the-scenes treatment of our brothers who were injured at the May 31 Southwest Inn fire.

The injured firefighters and their families continue to struggle with the city’s workers compensation system to get the help they need to recover from injuries sustained serving the citizens of Houston. This week, the families received letters informing them the City would be utilizing their federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefit time for injuries they received at the fire.

None of the firefighters involved were given an option to use FMLA time. Instead, the City unilaterally decided for them and sent form letters, in some cases, while the firefighters were in the hospital, advising that their FMLA benefits would run concurrently with workers compensation benefits. While legally permissible, this scheme is morally reprehensible, and it is clearly devised by the City to deplete important benefit time at faster rates than necessary.

Once again, the Parker Administration’s true view of firefighters is not truly revealed at politically expedient public events and in speeches, but in how the City treats employees when few are watching. This Administration should be ashamed of itself.

Sincerely,

Jeff Caynon

President, HPFFA

 

Here is a statement from Mayor Parker: “My first priority is the care and support for the injured and their families. These firefighters have been and will continue to be provided every available city resource to assist in their recovery. The requirement that FMLA and worker’s compensation run concurrently has been in effect since 2010 and is the policy of most other U.S. cities and corporations. Because the city also has other policies that are more generous than FMLA, employees still preserve the right to take leave should the need arise again in the future. There have been face-to-face meetings with family members of the injured to explain everything and answer any questions. That line of communication remains open. It is unfortunate that Mr. Caynon has chosen to use this tragedy as an opportunity to spread inaccurate information for seemingly politically purposes.”

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