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End costly practice of converting sick time to payments

Trumbull County doled out just shy of a half-million dollars this year to 337 employees who had earned sick and vacation time, but wished, instead, to convert some of that time to cash.

The county converted a similar amount of sick and vacation time for 363 workers in 2022, and nearly $710,000 for 414 employees in 2021.

The specific conversion requests are impossible to budget in advance, and as you can see, the figures fluctuate and add up to astronomical expenses.

Under varying rules and labor contracts, county employees have the ability to cash out specific amounts of their earned sick and vacation hours annually. The problem with allowing the practice is that the county does not know how much it will pay from one year to the next, making it difficult for departments to budget.

Frankly, we have a hard time believing any private sector company would operate like this.

Yet, here we are, allowing our tax dollars to be spent this way.

Generally, businesses budget the cost of each employee based on agreed-upon salary and benefits. That cost does not fluctuate during the budget year. No matter how much sick or vacation time an employee uses, the annual payroll should remain constant. The only factor that should drive up or down payroll is the loss of an employee or the addition of unbudgeted overtime costs.

However, when a worker is permitted to save accrued personal time and then cash it out later, the cost of doing business with that employee suddenly increases significantly.

Further, it rewards workers for holding their vacation or sick time because when it ultimately is cashed in, it is reimbursed at future and typically higher pay rates, rather than the rate being earned when the hours originally were accrued.

And that’s not to mention public retirement systems base pension amounts on the highest three years of a public worker’s earnings. That means these lump-sum payments also drive up the average of the salaries and the worker’s pension amount.

This is unfair to the employer — or in this case, it’s unfair to the taxpayers who foot the bill.

Sadly, this practice is not unique to Trumbull County.

Several Mahoning County employee bargaining units spell out similar rules, although some of those labor contracts cap the amount of time that can be bought back by the government or reduce the value of each hour to as little as a quarter hour that can be cashed out when Mahoning County workers retire after working at least 10 years in the public sector.

Many other local governments allow a similar practice.

We call on each to work harder to ease this practice, or better yet, end it completely.

Trumbull commissioners recently took steps to begin curtailing the expense in that county.

The three Trumbull commissioners voted in favor of an agenda item for nonbargaining personnel, giving employees in 20 different county departments the ability to cash out a maximum of 40 sick hours and 80 vacation hours.

Indeed, this is still a lot, but as Trumbull Commissioner Niki Frenchko stated, these amounts are much more reasonable and manageable.

Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said the agreement is a “huge stride” and clear evidence that the county is working to reduce cashouts. He said now that they have worked to lower the cashouts for nonbargaining employees, it will offer a chance to work with the unions next.

We are glad to see the effort to resolve this matter, and we urge commissioners — and all local elected officials who deal with these issues — to include the issue in the next round of labor contract talks.

Of course, when they come to the table, we are equally hopeful that union negotiators also will be willing to negotiate the issue, knowing full well the challenges these unlimited cashouts have caused for budgeting and operations.

It’s time to not only reduce and cap these expenses, but to end them completely.

No private business ever would operate this way. Government shouldn’t either.

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