Sick Unto Retirement

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Make sure you're sitting down when you read this one: A recent survey by The Boston Globe finds that municipal workers take 50 percent more sick days than people in the private sector. Which is not news, really. But there was one line in the piece that deserves reprinting:

Boston officials said they are examining the case of Officer Christine Meegan, who allegedly took advantage of the department's generous sick-time and vacation policies to take off more than 100 days from work between July of last year and March of this year. A department official said the days off were allowed under the union contract but were improper. (emphasis added)

For more on the glories of unions, read some vintage Mike Lynch and Virginia Postrel here, here, and here.

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  1. Well, there you have it.

    Louisiana’s senior senator Mary Landreiu seems to have said it best, when she told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday right after hurricane Katrina that, quote: “The Mayors of cities all over the country have trouble getting their people to work on a sunny day, let alone during a catastrophy”.

  2. Who WANTS to work? That is why it is called “work” and not “fun”

  3. Question for the vet journalists out there (and/or interns with Lexis):

    Are we seeing more stories about lazy civil *servants* lately? Or am I just reading them more?

    And if we are seeing more stories, do they come and go in cycles?

  4. In many municipal, county or state jobs it was long the case that you could “bank” untaken sick or vacation time. When you got close to retirement you could take it all in one lump, meaning that, frex, if you retired after 29.5 years, and you had accrued 26 weeks of leave, you got the 30-year-man’s pension payout. Where that rule has been changed, the “use it or lose it” behavior has taken over, which is just rational.

    Kevin

  5. Knowing MA civil service, I’ll bet she even managed to collect overtime pay.

  6. I have heard that the cops in my town sometimes call in sick, then are brought in on overtime to cover their own position. No kidding.

  7. I just moved to NW PA from the south and up here the city will only hire contractors that pay there employees acording to union pay scales. It is actualy in the call for bids in the newspaper. I have been trying to get someone to work on my roof and been amazed at the high bid I got and the fact that I have only been able to get one guy to actually show up to give me an estimate. This town (Warren, PA) is 98% white and when I tell everyone we need some mexicans up here they look like they are going to die.

    There is nothing wrong with an honest living doing manual labor but you can’t expect to make the same salary for a skill you learned on the job while making money as your nieghbor who went to college for 6 years while paying for it.

    The honest power of a union should come from the members having a skill or ability that the employer needs. The leverage on the employer is that if all the employees quit at once the operation stops, because there are not enough people with the skill to replace them. The realty of unions is that they are protected at by the goverment.

  8. The scary thing is, the article only states that her behavior was “improper”. There is no mention
    of any disciplinary action, let alone firing her on the spot, which, knowing public sector union contracts, would be well nigh impossible.

  9. It would be better to have all the specifics of the case. I know several people in both public and private sector jobs who have taken off extended periods of time (using vacation and sick days) to recover from surgery, illness, or traumatic personal losses.

    In the case of more sick leave being used in the public sector, one explanation may be the common use of sick leave banks in these occupations. Employees participate in these banks by donating some of their own earned sick days as insurance against the possibility of an extended illness or injury that exeeds their accumulated leave. Without such help, many people simply lose their income (and concievably their homes, cars, etc.). Their days off during recovery are not counted as ‘sick days’ because they receive no pay, and sometimes lose their jobs.

    Despite some fairly serious ilnesses and injuries (some some hereditary and some self-inflicted by lifestyle choices), I have about 160 days accumulated. I’d much rather suffer a rough day at work than write special instructions for a substitute.

    BTW, in my years in the private sector I saw far greater use/abuse of sick days, primarily because of ‘use it or lose it’ policies.

  10. This officer had this sick and vacation time accumulated because she had worked for a long time without taking it.

    If she had spread those 100 days out over the previous four or five years, but taken exactly the same amount of time, would that have been a scandal?

  11. Funny how all the problems with unions show up on H&R but don’t count on any examples of corporate malfeasance being mentioned.

  12. H&R should be re-named PTB (Pass the Buck)

    sam sez….”I have been trying to get someone to work on my roof and been amazed at the high bid I got and the fact that I have only been able to get one guy to actually show up to give me an estimate. This town (Warren, PA) is 98% white and when I tell everyone we need some mexicans up here they look like they are going to die.”

    economics 101…….low supply + high demand = high prices..you don’t need more Mexican roofers…..you need more roofers, period

    and a Mexican roofer working in Warren PA should earn less than a white roofer in Warren PA because………..?

  13. “would that have been a scandal?”

    The story is about the amount of days taken, in general, by municipal employees. Not just this one. Anyway, it’s interesting in the context of the Ford layoffs. A employer subject to market pressures will eventually dump the bad contracts it negotiated, or just pick up camp. Municipal employees aren’t subject to direct competition, but even if they were there is an endless drum of tax revenue to subsidize the non-competitive contract arrangements. Perhaps the solution, that is if we aren’t going to provide direct competition for the overall contract, is to outlaw union membership for government jobs.

  14. and a Mexican roofer working in Warren PA should earn less than a white roofer in Warren PA because………..?

    I’m guessing the Mexican roofer might *offer* his services at a lower cost. One might ask why on earth all roofers in Warren, PA should earn the exact same pay.

  15. If she had spread those 100 days out over the previous four or five years, but taken exactly the same amount of time, would that have been a scandal?

    Yes, because she would have to take 4 or 5 weeks a year off “sick” in order to burn 100 days in 4 or 5 year.

    Any contract that gives tenured workers 4 or 5 weeks a year of sick leave on the taxpayer dime should be a scandal.

  16. One factor not mentioned is the working conditions for municipal workers. Police, firefighters, garbagemen, road maintenance may get injured more than the average private sector worker, and definitely get more sick leave than the average private sector worker at similar pay scales. I have also been in some government office buildings that, because of dust and mold, triggered my asthma within minutes — any wonder that people working in them for thirty years might get sick frequently. Don’t take one anecdotal scandal and then assume an entire system is faulty; that’s how you end up with overbroad regulations.

  17. I would have thought that any reasonable person would have considered how many sick days she accumulated PER YEAR before that person would have called it scandalous. Re-read Kevin’s post

    rhywun sez….”I’m guessing the Mexican roofer might *offer* his services at a lower cost”…..couldn’t any nationality roofer “offer” his services for less or for you it has to be Mexican?

  18. look, unions are just like any advocacy group – they advocate for their “group”.

    i have been a member of a union most of my life. I also used to be a firefighter (union).

    Unions, including public employee unions are not out there to advocate for “good”, “the common good” or the company (in this case, the government is the company”) good.

    in advocating for their side, they necessarily often advocate for rights/positions that may help their constituents but hurt the greater good, and/or the company

    many leftists see all union advocacy/positions as “good” since they benefit “the common man” vs. evul corporations ™.

    the reality is that both sides will advocate for positions that are generally unfair to the other side.

    i can certainly admit that many police and fire unions do not advocate for the populations they serve (the citizens). not by a long shot.

    it’s kind of like our adversarial justice system. both sides advocate and make unreasonable claims for THEIR side. and hopefully, a fair middle is reached (but often not).

    use it or lose it sick policies INVITE abuse. I got 21 days of sick leave a year. that’s 4 weeks. but it was not use or lose, and i could cash out sick days at 2/3 monetary value upon leaving. if i knew i would lose all my sick leave when i left, what possible incentive would i have not to ever call in sick? seriously.

  19. That she had a lot of time to burn isn’t exactly surprising. Government salaries, by and large, tend to be less than private sector counterparts, in part because getting more money for workers usually means (1) cutting other government programs; or (2) charging taxpayers more. Neither option being terribly popular politically, it’s common for government entities to be more generous with leave.

  20. pigwiggle,

    “Municipal employees aren’t subject to direct competition, but even if they were there is an endless drum of tax revenue to subsidize the non-competitive contract arrangements” True. On the other hand, they are subject to a check – the democratic process – that private sector employess are not. If City Hall’s employment policies offend the public, they will throw out the bums who negotiated the contracts – unlike Wal Mart.

    RC Dean,

    If I read the story correctly, she took sick time, vacation time, and personal time. Ten days of vacation plus ten days of sick per year plus 2-4 personal days per year comes out to 4.5 – 5 weeks. That doesn’t sound unreasonable on its face.

  21. couldn’t any nationality roofer “offer” his services for less or for you it has to be Mexican?

    Yep, it could be any nationality. Your point?

  22. that municipal workers take 50 percent more sick days than people in the private sector.

    It is great that our local governments supply jobs to all these honest hard working chronicly sick people.

    I really like how union supporters here completely ignored this aspect of the article and only focused on the individual case with no context…it would be fairly easy to find a person who worked in the private sector and who took just as much sick time but the nail in the coffin is the 50% figure…the individual cases are simply flavor.

  23. By the way I think sick days are bullshit…what they should really do is give everyone a 25 cent an hour raise (maybe a bit less) to allow the employees to puchase AFLACK insurance.

    A sick day system is far to easy to game and it makes legitamatly sick poeple act against thier own interests.

  24. “I really like how union supporters here completely ignored this aspect of the article and only focused on the individual case with no context…it would be fairly easy to find a person who worked in the private sector and who took just as much sick time but the nail in the coffin is the 50% figure…the individual cases are simply flavor.”

    look, like it or not – sick leave is a BENEFIT. and people like to USE benefits.

    also, in many public sector jobs (police and firefighters come to mind), you do not get pay incentives for working harder or better. that’s the joy 🙂 of civil service. there is a disincentive to do more, generally speaking. and in the cases of cops, every additional arrest, traffic stop, etc. is a possible lawsuit etc. because even if the guy does everything right, people can still lie, complain and win. not to mention if he screws up.

    that’s civil service. sick leave is a benefit, and people like to use benefits.

    some dept’s, for instance, give incentives for not calling in sick. i know one agency that gives two vacation days to any employee that takes less than 2 sick days year.

    also, many dept’s are incredibly NONprogressive about encouraging physical fitness for cops, despite the fact that it is a very physical job, and more physically fit officers are less likely (per the FBI) to have lawsuits filed against them, to use excessive force, to get hurt on the job, and to abuse sick leave. a very few dept’s offer incentives for fitness (and many unions fight any incentive for fit officers, since they see this as penalizing fatasses – who tend to use more sick leave)

    and so it goes

  25. rhywun sez…..”Yep, it could be any nationality. Your point?”

    I guess I made my point

  26. I guess I made my point

    I doubt it, since your “point” – such as it was – was obviously to tar me as a “racist” for taking another poster’s example of Mexicans and pointing out the very well-known fact that Mexicans often work for less money than Americans. Feel free to substitute any other nationality who come here to make more money than they would in their own land. But please don’t go putting words in my mouth like “Mexicans should earn less than Americans” – even the libertarian in your head should roll at eyes at that one.

  27. er, “roll his eyes”

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