Streams

Sick Days in New Jersey

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Brigid Callahan Harrison, professor of political science and law at Montclair State University, explains the negotiation over payouts for unused sick time for public employees in New Jersey and what the purpose of sick leave is. 

Guests:

Brigid Harrison

Comments [23]

Joe from Bayside

One more thing - I retired with about 100 sick days left. If you pro rate my sick pay out over my 34 yrs of service it comes out to about $500/yr. Without that and other benefits public unions would be demanding much higher salaries. I don't think NYC did too badly in this regard.

Dec. 14 2011 11:45 AM
Joe from Bayside

A couple of Brian's callers correctly made the point that that there is a trade off. As a young man I entered the public sector knowing full well that I would be making less than in the private sector. But I opted for the better benefits of civil service. It was an implied agreement. I worked 4 yrs for NYS &30 yrs as a NYC teacher making far less than many of my peers. Christie and other governors are glossing over this, demonizing public workers. Pay teachers the same as lawyers and he would have a point. And to anyone who thinks teaching is easy with a lot of time off, I ask - why haven't young people been clamoring for these jobs?

Dec. 14 2011 11:35 AM
Tyler Newmark from South Queens

All these people who would rather public employees not be able to collect benefits awarded through contracts negotiated previously, regardless of their terms, should be outraged that the Governor (or anyone else) would seek to undo legal contracts. The undoing of contracts seems to have deeper implications than simply bringing the public sector workers down to the recently diminished private sector. Let the Governor bring such a mentality to the bargaining table, and lets bargain. Give us the right to strike and the right to bring our own terms to the table regarding the issues that matter to us most. Why the interest in an unfair fight? The union I belong to (PSC/CUNY) is MY union. It represents me in ways that I do not have the resources to, advocates on my behalf when I cannot (for fear of retaliation, being laid-off, or ostracized in my place of work).

I graduated in the 90s when the internet bubble was just inflating. Many of my classmates have gone on to form startups and have been at the fore of the digital revolution, making in many cases millions of dollars for work that in the public sector would have earned them 35,000 for starters--if that.

Hazel's unfortunate comment above that teaching should be a "vocation" should be recruiting then at these Ivies where students have the money to pursue a "vocation." Most of our students at CUNY want a stable field of employment, and most of them are willing to "give back" as I did. For me, teaching was a choice; choosing a public system of higher education with immense challenges that is currently something like 40% down in real wages since 1976 was a CHOICE. Choosing to commit to my community and buy a home while all forecloses around us was a CHOICE. We are spending a great deal of our monthly income covering a mortgage that is 10x what it would have been in the midwest, where we should likely make about the same amount of money. That's a choice -- and I have no regrets!

Yes, Hazel, teaching should be a vocation, but leave it to the very rich. No longer will I be able to suggest to my students that they become teachers. Certainly not the talented ones, who would do better doing anything but teaching. Don't pretend that there is any incentive for studying for 6, 8, or 10 years, doing longitudinal research into "what works."

Why would anyone take any risks with the time they have on this earth to pursue inquiry that may or may not lead anywhere?

Why must the little guy bear all the risk?

Dec. 14 2011 11:13 AM
Francis from Monmouth, NJ

Brian and Ms. Harrison have not mentioned a key point behind the effort to rein in sick time payouts, which is the sheer huge size of many payouts. Last year in Jersey City 31 retirees got checks of more than $100,000, for example. Many towns, including mine, are short on cash and have resorted to borrowing money to cover these payouts. It's gotten completely out of hand.

Dec. 14 2011 11:08 AM
Joe Pearce from Brooklyn, N. Y.

I worked for just over 25 years for the old Irving Trust Company. They had a simple policy re sick days: within reason, you were entitled to as many as you needed but only if you were sick. If you were sick, they would pay up to a certain point and then some kind of medical leave system took effect, but your salary remained unaffected for the time you were out. If you were not sick, you might still get paid time off for legitimate purposes - a death in the family, jury duty, etc., but otherwise you were expected to be there every day for which you got paid - in other words, every day of your employment with them. (They also had two "floating" days to which all were entitled, and those could be taken for any reason whatsoever). In 25 years, I did not take a single sick day (and ended up with 25 annual letters in my file to prove it) and I expected nothing for not doing so. I was being paid to work! Around 1970, a much older friend of mine retired from what was then called the New York City Department of Welfare. He, too, had lucked out where health was concerned, but that department gave something like eight or nine sick days per year, and he had accumulated just over 240 of them by the time he was ready to retire! The result? They didn't give him a check to cover, but he was allowed to not show up for work for the last eight months of his employment there, essentially starting his retirement while still on the active payroll, with his reduced retirement benefit starting only after the eight months had expired. This seemed like picking the taxpayers' pockets back then - 41 years ago! - and I'm amazed that it has taken this long for some fiscally responsible public official to start screaming bloody murder about it.

Dec. 14 2011 11:02 AM
Joana from Central NJ

I have been a NJ public school teacher for the past 8 years. Most school districts persuade teachers not to take off too much due to having to pay substitutes. Now Christie is saying he wants to put a cap on the sick day pay off. What people don't realize is that school teachers cannot use sick days for vacation like some private sector works may be able to. If the cap is approved, then teachers will be motivated to use the days and districts will have to use funds to pay for substitutes anyway.
Also, in most districts there is a cap of how many sick days female teachers can use for maternity leave. For instance my school district only allows 30 days total, and after that we are not entitled to disability or 6/8 weeks paid maternity leave like many private sector workers are given.
Some argue that school teachers make enough and they don't need this pay off at retirement. What most NJ residents don't know is that in many school districts teachers have been going through pay freezes for years. Since I have been a teacher I have gone through 4 in 8 years, and am making the same salary for the past 3 years.
Teachers don't get paid vacation, we don't have golden parachutes, 401K plans, and all the other benefits many private workers do. This sick day pay off is one of the last few benefits we have and now Christie is threatening to remove it or put a cap.

Like I tell many prospective teachers, DON'T become a teacher, espcecially with this government in NJ. Its not worth the headache, low pay, constant pay freezes, programs getting cut, budgets cut, top heavy administration making 6 figure salaries, no support, blamed for everything, very large class sizes, terrible discipline policies, focus on state tests and test scores, fading benifits, and low morale.
This is why 1/2 of new teachers leave after the 1st year of teaching, and soon we won't have qualified teachers if Christie keeps attacking us.

Dec. 14 2011 10:53 AM
RBC

Sick time should be exactly that - sick time! Even if accumulated over many years, it shouldn't be used as a supplemental check. It should be used for illnesses and other medical absences. These employees should be lucky they are still getting sick time and vacation time.

Dec. 14 2011 10:48 AM
Deborah Silver from Westchester, NY

So-called "sick days" are in fact, personal days, and should be called that and should include sick time. To call such time "sick days" is paternalistic. Salaried employees vs. hourly employees typically have either a tacit (usually the case) or explicit agreement of this with employers; it is generally hourly employees who are subjected to the sick time, rather than personal time, policy.

Dec. 14 2011 10:43 AM
Graham Walker from Bronx

By being able to amassing sick time also encourages workers to go to work when they are sick (thus spreading disease) so they can obtain a cash payment when they retire.

Dec. 14 2011 10:42 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Does the state lose money more money when workers call in sick?

Dec. 14 2011 10:42 AM
bob from huntington

people should be allowed to take time off without penalty when they're sick. yet, public sector employers have chosen to view sick days as a negotiable commodity.
consequently, they've perverted the concept of disablility.

Dec. 14 2011 10:41 AM
Joe from nearby

The so-called New Normal-
Contrast the people who were smart enough to negotiate decent pay/bene packages to all the dummies who didn't, then act outraged when they don't dumb down to the dummies level.

Dec. 14 2011 10:41 AM
Dorothy from Manhattan

I'm no Christie fan but this time he's right. This sick leave boondogle wouldn't fly in private industry. The very generous firm from which I retired gave us 10 days of sick leave a year (plus short term disability of 6 months at full pay and another 6 months, if medically necessary, of 6 months at 80%) You were paid each January for any unused sick leave from the previous year.
This NJ thing makes me furious -- everybody who's ever been to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles in any state/city knows what public employment is like.
My sympathy has been with the Wisconsin public employees but this makes me wonder if Scott Walker has a point.

Dec. 14 2011 10:40 AM
RL

If your husband goes to work when you're having a child, then maybe it's your and his priorities that need to be evaluated, not the governor's.

Dec. 14 2011 10:40 AM

The sick day payout should not be considered something you are banking because you took a "low" paying job. Get rid of banked sick days and raise salaries.

Dec. 14 2011 10:40 AM
Brian from Hoboken

Let's get away from benefits. Sick days are NOT benefits. If you are sick, you get paid time off. They are not to be used as additional pay!

I have a question: when these people get their huge payouts, does the sick pay get used in the last three year average used to them compute pension amounts?

Dec. 14 2011 10:39 AM
RL

The governor is just being his usual angry man and sticking it to the little guy again. But at my job I can only carryover a small number of sick days, and that should probably be the same with public employees.

What the governor needs to do is balance this change with something that hits the upper management of NJ. What are the people at the top, like his highness, having to give up???

Dec. 14 2011 10:38 AM
Nick from UWS

Why is this issue being fogged by all these pseudo suggestions of moral superiority by calling these jobs "service" or "serving the public sector". Stop all this jingoistic nonsense and call them what they are: jobs, and make the decision: are the sick day policies good for the business or not?

Dec. 14 2011 10:37 AM

"Go be a teacher because the benefits are so good"? That's not a reason to become a teacher - or a cop, or a fireman. Being a teacher, at least, should be a vocation. Not just a job. This attitude is why our education system is suffering and why teachers are so maligned.

Dec. 14 2011 10:36 AM
David from West Hempstead

It seems as though Governer Christie is inherently opposed to any form of defined-benefit deferred compensation.

Dec. 14 2011 10:36 AM
JAY from CT

It's the private sector that's changed by the lost benefits. That's the real issue here.

Dec. 14 2011 10:35 AM
carolita from NYC

No, why should they? The whole principle is to help people in need, not deprive them of pay when ill. It's not something you should be able to accumulate and be paid for. If you go your whole duratino of a job without using your sick days, maybe a bonus is in order, but not the sick day pay accumulated. That's ridiculous. I'm freelance, and I get no sick days, ever. I know the value of a TRUE sick day.

Dec. 14 2011 10:35 AM
Robert from NYC

I am a very strong supporter of labor and believe that all, ALL workers should be given a certain amount of sick time annually. But I have to say that if people don't use their sick time then they lose it at the end of the year. They will get the alloted amount of sick time in the new year. If the employer and union agree to carry over last years remainder that's up to them, but not pay for it in cash. It's sick leave, use it as sick leave not a cash bonus.

Dec. 14 2011 10:35 AM

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