Union-Negotiated Sick Day Compensation System Under Fire in New Jersey

TRENTON, N.J. – Take a look inside a typical public employee union contract – including teacher contracts – and you’ll find provisions that give public servants a payout for any unused sick or personal leave time they have banked.

Sometimes the payouts come incrementally, like at the employees’ 10th anniversary. More often they come at retirement. The payments are almost always based on the employees’ current or final salary, rather than the amount they were making when they banked the unused day off.

While these might seem like innocent, well-deserved bonuses, they are, in reality, ticking financial time bombs that threaten to blow a hole in the budgets of schools and other government entities.

That’s the case in New Jersey, which is on the hook “for an accumulated $825 million in unused sick days,” according to Syracuse.com. That’s the cumulative amount owed by all levels of state government, including school districts. “This works out to an average of $250 in property taxes per resident,” writes the HudsonReporter.com.

Some New Jersey lawmakers want to cap payouts for unused sick leave at $7,500 per public employee. Gov. Chris Christie says that policy would cost taxpayers about $3.25 billion.

Instead, Christie favors ending the practice altogether, saying such payouts are nothing more than “gifts to the public sector unions.”

To illustrate the cost of paying employees for not calling in sick, consider what $825 million could buy for the Garden State.

According to a government website, the median teacher salary in New Jersey is $60,119. With health insurance and pension contributions, it’s safe to assume that the median compensation for a New Jersey teacher is about $100,000.

By that measurement, the state could use the money it currently owes for unused sick leave to employ 5,500 additional teachers. That’s not too shabby, considering New Jersey has shed well over 33,000 teaching jobs in just the past couple of years.

And if Christie’s $3.25 billion estimate is accurate? That could conceivably pay for 32,500 teachers – a sizeable percentage of the teachers who have been laid off since 2009. It seems that Christie is on the right track.

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