Is this what the governor understands for education reform? The sick time provisions in public employment in the State of New Jersey are quasi standard, modeled after Civil Service which mandates a 15-day yearly allowance. Subdivisions of government that do not belong to Civil Service may have 15, 12, 10 days. Civil Service does not mandate the payout at retirement. That is a negotiable issue. There is no doubt that the huge payouts that take place from time to time are an insult to taxpayers struggling to keep their finances afloat amid very high property taxes. But sick-time payouts have been blown out of proportion by the demagoguery of our governor. Furthermore, the largest payouts are made to politically connected individuals who are typically those making the most money.
Political patronage is by far much more costly than sick time will ever be. Likewise, change-of-orders in public contracts will always cost much more than sick time payouts. The governor has not mentioned either and in fact, during his administration, both lines of spending have increased – all his government reduction push has focused on public workers who actually work; not the parasites.
But sick time is a real issue regardless of the governor; the use and misuse were always sticky points which I experienced when I was union president. I had to represent union members when they were accused of absenteeism for abusing sick time. The enticement of being reimbursed for sick time not used at retirement was introduced not to fleece the public but to reduce absenteeism. The caps to sick-time payout conduce workers to use their time, and when they take a sick day, they get paid, so the matter is reduced – even if the governor achieves his goal of lowering payouts – to either pay now or pay later at retirement.
We all agree that sick time is exclusively for when one is sick. But even there, we enter a grey area : Defining sick. How sick one has to be to justify absence? In the end, it is a subjective decision.
The solution which benefits all is to abolish sick time as we know it and replace it with sick events. Events are not limited in length but end when the patient enters short term disability – usually between 21 days and one month. They do not get carried over nor go to a “bank” or build up toward retirement. There are no retirement payouts. The employee uses them when he/she needs it. Like sick time, an event could be for sickness of an immediate dependent although in those instances they are not open ended either and should give way to family leave.
The sick events policy has been in my plans for Civil Service reform for a long time. It is ongoing work and I am sure I will receive intelligent suggestions when the moment comes. In the meantime, let’s just unmask the maneuvering of the current governor who ignores the greatest abuses in our political system while continuing to punish the teaching profession.