The way it oughta be: Use it or lose it

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.


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.

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