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February 27, 2011
A Letter to the Editor
Pretending to be the Voice of Taxpayers for Political Purposes
In the current debate over Ohio Senate Bill 5, proponents have deliberately misled the public on issues regarding public sector union contracts. Let’s just take a look at one mentioned in an editorial by The Vindicator that involves sick day conversions that could have consequences for public employers.
Sick day conversion is a deferred benefit where unused sick days are prorated and converted into what might be called severance pay. For example, over 30 years, a teacher may have accumulated as many as 300 sick days, and if they retire they could be paid for 45 days or about 1.5 days per year. When critics of public unions talk about this practice, they usually ignore the fact that workers receive compensation for only a small percentage of their accumulated sick leave.
Nor do they discuss how the accumulation of sick leave serves the interests of taxpayers and allows public agencies and schools to operate more effectively. Unions and employers have negotiated this policy as an alternative to a “use it or lose it” system of sick days. While the policy benefits workers, it also saves money for public employers, maintains coverage for public services, and encourages workers not to abuse sick leave. Here’s how.
Under a “use or lose it” system, workers would have an incentive to use their sick days within the year. That would likely increase the number of sick days used, and in most settings, that would require public employers to pay substitutes (for teachers) or overtime to other employees. Alternatively, they could provide less service. Simply put, a “use it or lose it” system would cost taxpayers more and decrease public services. Classes would not be covered, police patrols not run, potholes not fixed, and fires not extinguished as quickly.
Commentators on both the right and the left, as evidenced by recent comments on both Fox and MSNBC, agree that the goal of SB 5 and similar bills is to undermine organized labor and thus shore up the power of the Republican party, not to balance state budgets. In their pursuit of political goals, proponents of the bill, both public officials and commentators, are presenting incomplete and skewed information about the wages, benefits, and working conditions of Ohio’s public workers. Wouldn’t it be more responsible and honest if they could base their arguments on fair and complete information instead of drumming up resentment through false claims?
John Russo and Sherry Linkon
Co-directors, Center for Working-Class Studies
Youngstown State University
Members of the YSU-OEA