Padding mileage expenses was so entrenched and condoned in Chicago’s Fire Prevention Bureau, it was “almost a work rule,” an arbitrator ruled Thursday, overturning the city’s firing of four firefighters and reducing lengthy suspensions for 44 others.
Independent arbitrator Edwin H. Benn said there is “no real dispute” that all of the accused Chicago firefighters “knowingly submitted inaccurate mileage reimbursement reports and obtained compensation for mileage — ranging in some cases into the thousands of dollars — that they did not actually incur.”
But, Benn noted that the alleged mileage padding was a “decades-long practice” that was taught, “condoned and encouraged by supervisors.” In fact, Benn noted that many of the inspectors were “assured by their supervisors that the accuracy of their mileage totals would not be challenged.”
As a result, the arbitrator wrote, “It is fair to conclude that the condonation and supervisory encouragement of employees to submit the maximum amount allowable for mileage reimbursement instead of submitting actual mileage expenses incurred was so deep, long-standing and pervasive that it went beyond condonation to rise to the level of becoming almost a work rule” in the Fire Prevention Bureau.
Although the charges are serious and might otherwise warrant firings and even longer suspensions, Benn wrote, “The amount of discipline imposed under these circumstances cannot be of a degree that should be imposed if condonation and encouragement at this level did not exist.”
In a 30-page ruling issued Thursday, Benn: reinstated four fired firefighters and ordered them to serve 40-day suspensions instead; reduced four 60-day suspensions to 40 days; cut 23 forty-five-day suspensions to 25 days; reduced 17 thirty-day suspensions to 20 days and allowed two supervisors who resigned to rescind their resignations. The captain was ordered to serve a 40-day suspension. The lieutenant was handed 25 unpaid days off.