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Sick pay is an employee benefit; it shouldn’t become a cash cow

Published: Mon, October 3, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

We should be immune to it by now, we suppose.

But our sensibilities are still shocked every time we see a government entity cutting a five-figure check to a retiring public employee for unused sick time. And we suspect that the reaction of most taxpayers is even more dramatic, something close to blood-boiling.

We’ve been saying it for years, but it bears repeating: Sick leave is a benefit that not every employee has, but for those fortunate ones who do, it is for use if and when the employee is sick.

If they have such strong constitutions that they seldom or never need sick leave, they should thank God or their lucky stars or the forbearers who gave them good genes.

The city of Youngstown gives us the latest examples of healthy people reaping an unseemly financial bonanza by virtue of not using sick leave. But there have been ample examples of similar abuses from other political subdivisions and school districts over the years.

The city’s board of control approved last week a severance check of $65,539 for retired Police Chief Jimmy Hughes and $62,138 for Frank J. Rosa, who retired from the fire department as a battalion chief. During their respective years on the city’s safety forces, — 34 years for Hughes and 37 years for Rosa — each earned a respectable wage in their early years and rather handsome salaries as high-ranking officers.

And each will receive pensions for life that far exceed that of most working stiffs or middle managers in the private sector. We’re sure that they and all of their colleagues will argue that they earned every dollar in salary and pension benefits, and we’re not here to argue that point today.

What we are willing to say is that no one has earned a cash payment for unused sick time. No one earns a dime by not being sick.

Hughes cashed out 902 hours of unused sick time for $37,959. That’s an average of $42 an hour. Rosa cashed out 1,732 hours for $46,391. That’s an average of nearly $27 per hour.

Predictable defense

Invariably when this subject of unused sick time is raised, its defenders claim that the policy actually saves the city money because if it didn’t buy the time, the employees would use it up. And when police and fire departments cover for sick employees, the overtime cost can be astronomical.

That presumes two things:

1) After years of coming to work faithfully, the employee would be so unscrupulous as to call off sick when he was not, just to get that which he considered his.

2) If that happened, other city officials would not feel obliged to clamp down on such an abuse.

Ask most taxpayers what should be done with an employee who cheats or a supervisor who looks the other way, and the answer is likely to be the same: Fire him.

No one is indispensable, and if they are sick, they should see a doctor and rest. If they are well, they should give the city an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.

And speaking of no one being indispensable, Hughes also amassed $15,655 for accumulated compensation time and $9,805 for unused vacation time. Rosa got $13,775 for unused vacation time.

Isn’t it time someone started telling city employees to use their vacation time, recharge their batteries and avoid getting rundown or sick? Oh, that’s right, some city employees never get sick.

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