As we first told you Tuesday evening, DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe has made changes to the light duty policy that will impact pregnant firefighters and employees who become injured or ill while off duty. After IAFF Local 36 complained that 30 days of light duty was not enough for pregnant firefighters, Chief Ellerbe tripled the time frame to 90 days. The union says that isn't enough and still wants the same policy offered to DC police officers, which allows pregnant cops to remain on light duty through their pregnancy.
In an ongoing dispute between the DC Fire Department and the union representing firefighters, the DC Fire Fighters Association is applauding Chief Kenneth Ellerbe's decision to increase the number of light duty days to which a member can be assigned.
The chief has increased the number of light duty days from 30 to 90. But the firefighters union says the change in policy is still not sufficient for pregnant firefighters to tend to the needs of their unborn children.
Pregnant firefighters had to use their own sick leave after the 30 days ran out. Once their sick leave ran out, they would be without pay until they were able to return to full duty.
DC firefighter Melissa Davis said, "I'm concerned that it's not quite enough."
Davis is still eight weeks away from her due date, but she's already been off the job for more than two months after her light duty assignment expired just 30 days in.
About Thursday's change, Davis shared, "Three months is great. It's better than 30 days. But for an average healthy pregnancy, a woman would need five months that she would be eligible to work a desk job and then two months before she returned to full duty."
The president of the DC Fire Fighters Association agrees with Davis saying that "the change in policy will still force our pregnant female members to exhaust their sick leave and forgo a paycheck in the interest of their unborn children."
But Fire Chief Ellerbe says the department needs to be fair to all firefighters, especially since there's a limited number of light duty jobs.
"Any member who desires to be on limited duty beyond 90 days will have to submit a request and the request will be either granted or not granted based on a case by case basis," stated Ellerbe.
This new policy applies to all firefighters whether they're pregnant, sick or injured. Davis and her union, however, want the department to make a distinction.
"There's definitely a huge difference between a injury and an illness as opposed to a pregnancy," said Davis.
Chief Ellerbe says if the department does that he's worried it will be opening the door to discrimination lawsuits. But keep in mind, the Metropolitan Police Department already lets its employees do limited duty work throughout their entire pregnancy, which is the kind of policy that the firefighters union says it wants.