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The way it oughta be: Use it or lose it



Published: Sun, July 4, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)


As we celebrate the birth of our nation and recall the uprising against a tyrannical monarch in Britain, there is today a similar feeling of public discontent toward another tyranny of sorts — that of greed on the part of public employees.

The uprising is triggered by the insatiable appetite for the largess that comes with being on the government payroll.

And it isn’t just the taxpayer-funded public pensions that have workers in the private sector up in arms.

As was noted in this space last week, payment for unused vacation time and sick leave is just as egregious as the unsustainable retirement benefits.

The recently retired president of Youngstown State University, Dr. David Sweet, drove out of town with a check for $100,596 in his pocket. It was for 50 days of unused sick leave — the university’s sick leave policy provides for a maximum payout of 50 days — and 33 days of unused vacation time. The maximum payout is for 40 days.

In other words, in the 10 years he was at YSU, Sweet didn’t have any major illnesses, nor did he feel the need to take all the vacation time he had earned.

It would be easy to conclude that being university president isn’t hazardous to one’s health and doesn’t necessitate time off to recharge the batteries.

SWEET IS NOT ALONE

But it isn’t just David Sweet who receives such a sweet deal. Severance packages for departing public employees are commonplace.

Over the years, The Vindicator has detailed some of the more lucrative deals, especially involving police officers and firefighters. And, it’s all taxpayer dollars that finance this unjustified giveaway.

Under the public pension system, the employer (we, the taxpayers) and the employee are supposed to contribute. But even that is not adhered to strictly. In many instances in government, the employee’s share is paid for by the taxpayers. The excuse that’s used: These poor hard-working souls have had to forgo pay raises during tough economic times.

The extent to which this system has become nothing more than an unnecessary reward for employment that is already well compensated can be seen in the retirement of 16 city of Youngstown workers two years ago.

The severance for the 16 was $219,447. The amount mostly reflects unused sick leave.

The city’s policy then was to pay a retiring employee 35 percent of the unused sick time he or she accumulated.

And while the accumulation occurs over the entire time the worker is on city government’s payroll, the hourly wage used to calculate the severance is the one at the time of retirement. Thus, if an employee had been on the payroll for 30 years, receiving raises during that time, his final year’s salary would have been the highest of his tenure.

Indeed, public employment is all about money because the formula used to calculate the employee’s pension is based on the average of the three highest years of salary.

The $219,447 the city shelled out for the 16 was part of a $900,000 expenditure for 55 employees who participated in the early retirement program.

The city spent more than $2 million to buy two years of time in the state Public Employees Retirement System for the employees. Such expenditure of taxpayer dollars is feeding the public’s discontent about the runaway cost of government.

Many of the public pension systems are in trouble financially, and taxpayers are being asked to bail them out. But the chances of that happening are becoming exceedingly slim. In fact, voter referendums are cropping up around the country to force employees to pay for any shortfalls in the pension system and to limit the contributions from the employers (read that taxpayers).

But despite these problems, public pensions are here to stay — because of the wide constituency that benefits from them, including legislators who have the authority to make changes.

On the other hand, payments for unused sick leave and vacation time are nothing more than greed and must be discontinued.

The Ohio General Assembly should pass a “use it or lose it” law that does away with the accumulation of sick time and vacation days — in all public sector employment.

The message is simple: If you’re not legitimately sick, you should be at work. And, if you have vacation days, take them. No one is indispensable.


Comments

1MikePrelee(38 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

Bertram, my response is up at Tales from the Rust Belt. I can't believe you picked Dr. Sweet's experience as an example. That large of a pay out is certainly not the norm.

http://talesfromtherustbelt.blogspot....

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2mufasa(26 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

All this negativity towards public employees is getting boring... I'm beginning to wonder if it all isn't "sour grapes".

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3Jake(112 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

I don't often agree with Bertram but I do on the issue of public employees' compensation. It is ridiculous some of the positions that have been turned into careers by unions - making change on the turnpike comes to mind - with absurd compensation that has nothing to do with the value of the work itself.

No surprise that people here aren't outraged, more likely wishing they could make change on the turnpike oblivious to the consequences of public largess. Too bad they can't see that what is happening in Greece is the end of that road, instead of blindly voting as they have forever and wondering why things get worse.

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4joesmoe(48 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

If people think that it is such a lucritive job to be a Police Officer or Fireman than quit your private sector job, take the tests and get hired. Go and start at a wage that is below what the majority of people are earning at GM, YSU or the Hospitals and wait 12 to 15 years to reach top rate for a violence and danger prone job. The pensions for the the Police and Fire are not that great, except for the current ones that are going to retire who are in the DROP program. The future pensioners will have to put up to $800 a month for medical insurance for them and their family. The county and city police and fire all agreed to "0's" for their contracts.
Lets do a story and see what the Vindicator personnel are getting for their retirement packages. Ill bet that that will never make the headlines.

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5TheLostPatrol(756 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

Keep on "Passing" those levies, income taxes, sales taxes, you well-informed Mahoning County Voters. Remember, the WRTA Levy, City Income Tax, County Sales Tax, etc. You get what you deserve by voting "Yes"; no more better services, but larger payouts to the government sector employees, by way of retire/rehire, large distribution checks for unused sick/vacation time, gilded pensions at 2.5% for each year of service (for your three best years), YSU governemnt employees receiving free college tuition for the entire Family on the backs of you parents that are paying for a YSU college education for your kids, and the Best of the Best Healthcare and Medication Card with low, low copays "...to all, and to all a great life"; on the backs of the private sector.

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