EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

October 1, 2012

Editorial: Time to retire sick leave buyback

If anyone out there working in the private sector has sick leave buyback benefits, we’ve never heard about it.

Most people haven’t.

It’s a perk that’s granted almost exclusively to public employee unions around the country, meant to encourage them not to be dishonest by calling in sick when they’re not.

The thinking goes that no matter how many paid sick days an employer offers — five, 10, 15 a year — employees will take every one of them whether they’re sick or not, creating headaches for those who need to keep fire trucks manned and teachers in the classroom.

Thus, an incentive. Public employees can cash in unused sick days when they leave, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. That means taxpayers effectively pay them twice — once for the hours they worked, and a second time for not cheating.

It’s faulty thinking, of course. Those of us in the private sector know that most workers don’t have to be paid extra to be honest. They will take time off when they’re sick and will come to work when they’re well.

We think most public employees are no different; they’re honest and hardworking, and they don’t need special incentives to encourage them to stay that way.

Around the nation, state and local governments facing unsustainable retirement costs have come to the same conclusion. They are moving to rein in or eliminate payments for unused sick time.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie is battling the state Legislature over what he calls “boat checks” -- the unused sick time bonuses awarded to many retiring public employees, which can easily run into six figures, enough to buy a luxury pleasure craft.

Closer to home, Salem, Mass., Mayor Kim Driscoll is targeting this bizarre perk in the current round of union negotiations.

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