Public-Sector Rules May Be Strict, but Respectful

It is wholly reasonable — even obvious — for the city of Woonsocket to implement these rules for its firefighters:

The order bans work that that would involve using department time or resources, including the uniform, for personal gain; doing work that would normally be expected to be done for the city while the firefighter was on duty; any acts that would have to be reviewed or approved by the Fire Department or other city employee; and lastly, work that “involves such time demands as would render performance of his or her duties as a firefighter less efficient and effective.”

These four requirements follow basic ethical and professional norms from which public sector employees and officials seem too often to be excused in Rhode Island. Where Woonsocket goes too far, however, is in presuming not to treat firefighters as adults and professionals:

The city has issued a general order to its firefighters that says starting May 11, if they want to work a second job, they will need the permission of the chief or the public safety director.

Policies should be in place to take corrective and punitive action when rules are broken, but giving an employer a preemptive veto power over activities outside of the workplace is a clear violation of rights and due respect.

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14 years ago

Sounds like an old episode of “Alice” where Mel refused to let any of the waitresses do any moonlighting and they revolted. I would expect the firefighters to do the same here.
I mean what if the next door neighbor wants to pay an off-duty Woonsocket firefighter to watch their kids for a night, gotta check with the chief? Sounds a bit silly to me.

14 years ago

More than a few paid firefighters volunteer in their hometowns, this could put an end to that.

Tom Kenney
14 years ago

First off let me state that I’m a firefighter (29 years) but I am not, nor do I pretend to be, a spokesman for all firefighters or any firefighter’s union. Also let me state up front that Woonsocket’s “problem” of a diminished personnel pool of firefighters is of their (the City’s) own making. I believe that cutting the staffing levels of public safety personnel (particularly minimum staffing levels required on the street at any given time) are sure-fire recipes for disaster. That being said, on the surface at least, I agree with you on this issue Justin. The City has no right to attempt to control firefighter’s off-duty time. The City has no right to demand that firefighters ask for permission from the department or the City to engage in secondary activities or employment when off-duty. The City, however, has every right to demand and expect that firefighters who are on-duty are able to perform their duties to the best of their abilities. On my department many FF’s have secondary jobs to pay the bills and provide for their families – many times this is done so that the wives/mothers can stay home with the kids (or to only have to work part time). Despite what some people have stated in the past about FF’s in this state, the majority (vast majority) of us are staunch supporters and believers in old-time family values and ideals. The old timers drill it into the head of new guys right from the beginning to “make no mistake about it, the fire department is your main job”! As for the provisions about not doing things for personal benefit that fall within your duties as firefighters while on duty…or using department resources including the uniform for personal gain…are you (or they) kidding me? These things… Read more »

14 years ago

I guess I don’t understand why such a policy should be needed. If a firefighter is working in construction or something from 8-5 and then shows up for a night shift exhausted and unable to perform his duties, you deal with the employee unable to perform his duties, regardless of reason. With regard to a second job, the employer should have blinders on toward the off-duty time. This is a bad idea and sends a very bad message.

14 years ago

Sorry, Empress Menard, but you don’t demand that your peeps take pay and benefit cuts, then turn around and deny them the right to make up the money they’ve lost with second jobs.
Same goes for anybody else who attempts to implement such a ridiculous policy.

14 years ago

Guess she wants to keep them … well, not barefoot and pregnant, Rhody, but penurious and dependent.
Look, no question that adjustments have to be made to public budgets. But to accompany them with a directive against other employment is counterintuitive and most likely illegal.

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