Framingham resident, director of government transparency at Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank
For the second year in a row, Governor Charlie Baker has proposed limiting executive branch employees to accruing 1,000 hours of sick leave – about six months of work time – over the course of their careers. Unfortunately, the Legislature again appears poised to reject this common-sense plan.
Currently, state employees can accrue up to 120 hours of sick time a year, or 15 days, and cash out 20 percent of that unused time upon retirement. But there is no limit to how much sick time they can accrue during their terms of employment.
Former Bridgewater State University president Dana Mohler-Faria received a nearly $270,000 payout for unused sick and vacation time when he retirement in 2015 (he later repaid almost $12,000 in vacation time). Last year, Mount Wachusett Community College president Daniel Asquino retired with $226,000 in accrued sick time.plus nearly $78,000 in unused vacation time.
A state inspector general’s report last October found more than 10,000 state employees sitting on 1,000 hours or more of unused sick time, which has created a taxpayer liability of more than $117 million. Nearly 20,000 employees have accumulated at least five weeks of unused vacation, which Cunha estimates will cost $217 million.
The situation is even worse at the MBTA. There, employees can apply unused sick time to creditable service for the purpose of calculating pension payouts. A Pioneer Institute analysis found someone making $81,000 with a 150-day sick leave balance receives an additional $1,150 annually in pension payouts.
In the private sector, if you don’t use sick time, you lose it. When state Representative Colleen Garry of Dracut filed legislation to limit unused sick-time payouts in 2016, she made a compelling point: government should pay public employees fairly during their working years and not push compensation into retirement packages.
The sick-time benefit was designed to promote a healthy workplace by encouraging employees to stay home and recuperate rather than come to work and make others sick. Its transition to a retirement benefit has exactly the opposite impact, creating both an incentive to show up no matter what and a massive liability for taxpayers.
Whitman resident, president of AFSCME Local 1517, 32-year employee at the Pappas Rehabilitation Hospital for Children in Canton
Every so often a story hits the news about a high level state executive or public higher education president retiring with a golden parachute that includes a generous payout for unused sick leave. There’s a few days of outrage and suddenly all public employees are targets.
While this benefit can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars for college presidents, for the typical state employee represented by AFSCME Council 93 it amounts to a modest one-time payment that serves as bridge income for the months between our date of retirement and our first pension check. Since our contract caps these payments at 20 percent accumulated time, the average sick-leave benefit at retirement for workers like me is about $6,000 after 30 or more years of service. That’s just $200 a year.
This is a modest and fair benefit – especially when one considers overtime costs associated with covering workers’ shifts when they have to use sick time. On the seemingly rare occasions when a community college president calls in sick, there is no need to have someone work overtime to cover for that president. That’s not the case for most state positions.
The individuals we care for in our mental health and public health facilities require around-the-clock care, as do the developmentally disabled living in residential facilities and the young people in the custody of the Department of Youth Services. When we need to call in sick, someone has to step in for us. If not, those who rely on us for quality care would be the ones to suffer.
Unfortunately, when critics of this benefit attach a price tag, they fail to deduct the savings in overtime the state realizes when we do not use our sick time.
It is also important to note that this benefit was negotiated as part of a collective bargaining agreement signed by the administration and the union. We believe any changes to this benefit for union workers should be handled through the same process. We also believe any proposed legislative changes should start with a focus on the college presidents and other high earners in management.
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