City trying to phase out big sick-time payouts

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hefty sick-time payouts upon retirement could be a thing of the past for future Springfield city workers.

Mayor Mike Houston’s administration has been attempting to negotiate the longtime perk out of union contracts. So far, two contracts have been changed to prohibit sick-time payouts for new employees upon retirement.

City Budget Director Bill McCarty said not as much progress has been made as officials would have liked, but the city remains committed to addressing the issue.

The background

The State Journal-Register reported last year that city employees who retired in the previous six years were paid about $4.8 million for their unused sick days. Those totals do not include other benefits paid upon retirement, such as unused vacation.

The newspaper’s analysis of payroll records showed that about 208 employees received sick-time payouts, with the largest amount going to former Fire Chief Bob Bartnick, who, upon retiring in 2006 after 28 years with the city, was paid $122,080 for unused sick days.

Shown the figures, Houston said the city needed to take a “serious look” at its sick-time policy, but that, out of fairness, any change shouldn't affect time already accumulated by current employees.

What’s happened since

McCarty said the city began addressing the issue last summer through collective bargaining.

The city was able to negotiate the benefit out of contracts with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 337, which represents about 64 City Water, Light and Power water workers, and International Brotherhood Of Electrical Workers Local 193, which represents two employees in the city’s audio/visual department.

Employees hired under the AFSCME 337 contract after Jan. 1, 2012, are not eligible for the payouts. Neither are audio-visual employees hired after Aug. 1, 2011.

Other contracts still allow the payout, although some limit the amount of payment.

Jim Gates, the city’s labor relations manager, said each set of negotiations has its own unique issues and circumstances.

“There is no single answer to the question of why things are agreed to in some negotiations and are not in others, other than the fact that the parties could not reach an agreement,” Gates said.

What’s next

McCarty said Houston recently directed the offices of human resources and budget and management to research how the state ended its sick-time payouts.

“The mayor is interested in finding a solution that, like the state of Illinois, does not affect already accumulated time, but rather applies only to future accumulations,” McCarty said.

Illinois state government pulled the plug on cash payments for unused sick time in 1997. State employees are not paid for unused sick time earned after Jan. 1, 1998, but the time can be used as retirement system service credit. Workers are still paid for hours accumulated before 1998.