Friday, March 29, 2013

HB3264: Rep. Roth Targets Evil Sick Leave

Representative Pam Roth

Representative Pam Roth’s latest fancy, HB3264, would eliminate those pesky personal sick days as an accumulated benefit for all future hires in education.  That’ll keep them in those oversized classrooms!   

"To people who work in the private sector, this is maddening. They are allowed sick days, so when they get sick, they don’t lose a payday. They don’t get and don’t expect a bonanza at the end of their employment because they didn’t get sick”
(“Sick, sick, sick.” Chicago Tribune: Editorial Board 7 February 2012).

Fred Klonsky warns about New York Mayor Bloomberg’s fiddling sick leave with fattened fiscal fingers:

Sick Leave: HB3264 (Corporate vs. Teacher)
noun – Quite simply, sick leave is a paid absence from duty. In many situations (teacher and corporate), employees are entitled to use sick leave for personal medical needs, injury or sickness of a family member, required care of a family member, bereavement and, on occasion, adoption-related needs.
Lately, corporatists and their mouthpieces like the Chicago Tribune  - or Representative Pam Roth - are decrying the “unfair” inequalities of sick leaves as provided by the public unions and those industrious workers in corporate America/Chicago. While there are, indeed, some differences between what is provided the “hard-working” in either field, the comparison often remains a fallacious association, as the two are not truly comparable. This is not to say that absenteeism is an innocuous problem associated with the management of personnel; indeed, it is not. A missing worker is missing work. In education as well the ramifications are impactful.
Let’s take a mid-management worker at, say, Roththinker Investments, one William Doyle. When Bill calls in sick, his paperwork increases while his productivity decreases. When Bill returns, he is confronted with all that he was unable to accomplish and a few desperate days of catching up. It is hoped that Bill has a proficient office assistant who has rescheduled his missed appointments and prioritized his most pressing engagements and needs when he does return.

Now, let’s take high school Science teacher named Todd Mertzel, who has called in sick. Todd has 150 students in a district waiting for him to assure an accurate count for student attendance, to design and deliver five or more lessons, to teach his students (in Arnie Duncan’s world, to the test), to make sure that order is maintained, and to assign homework that is both meaningful and metacognitive. In sum, this means that Todd’s absence is critical to at least 150 lives, if not more (perhaps he has extracurricular assignments as well). Todd, of course, will provide lessons for each class and specific students; however, the nexus of learning will suffer a severe bump if not a break.  Sometimes, believe it or not, subs are not prepared to take the lesson from the last level to the next.  Imagine the parental response when 150 children are told to “occupy themselves” for an hour or more in classes from a Substitute Teacher who was hired at considerable cost to the district. Of course, the students could be released from classes that day, from their homework, and from any other responsibilities, though that flies in the face of in loco parentis and educational sensibility.

Are you still wondering why public union employees are provided accumulated sick leave? It’s simply because it saves school districts money. Moreover, it also promotes learning, for studies have indicated that the less time a teacher is away, the less disruption to a student’s learning patterns. This, of course, applies to students as well; so much so, many districts have considered various rewards for students who miss fewer school days. In fact, in one notorious case, an Illinois school board actually offered additional grade points for fewer missed days in school. But I digress…

On the other hand, many businesses (my doctor’s office, for example) have gone to PTO – Paid Time Off. Paid time off is a “bank” of hours from which employees can draw. These are days that employees “bank” during pay periods for time not lost (due to sickness or whatever) while they work. The more they work without calling in sick, the more days they can “bank.” This is done with an accrual schedule that changes modestly in the employees’ favor after increments of half a decade. For instance, the full office staff receives .073 of an hour for each of the 2080 hours worked in a year (if they have no absences). That will result in 152 hours of “banked” paid time off for the healthy. Part-time workers receive no PTO or anything else. Of course, in my doctor’s office, the ratio of “bank” days between staff and administrative/ medical personnel is notable: the medical staff has no limitations financial or otherwise for time off taken for whatever reason.

Are there downsides? Indeed, there are several.
First, sickness can eat into vacation time; therefore, employees will come to work when ill – even with the flu. This practice, called presentee-ism, is a major threat to productivity in many workplaces, for it spreads contagion and illness while devastating productivity. Also, because the employer could care less why an employee is absent, the employees understandably take as much time off as possible during a calendar year.

Secondly, as the Chicago Tribune points out in glowing terms, employees on PTO cannot “bank” their accrued paid time off from one year to the next, but that also means that PTO employees are the first to make sure they do take that time during the year. In most cases, PTO time off comes to 19 days, considerably more than the number of days received in most teacher contracts. You might ask: If teachers were on PTO? They’d want to take all the accrued time too, and we’re right back to the expense of substitutes and students’ lost learning.

What’s the bottom line? When corporatists think only in terms of profit, they forget what works efficiently, provides reason and balance, and offers positive incentives and outcomes for doing a job well done, especially a job that creates critical-thinking children, instead of widgets. Confused? Need another example? Examine the corporatists’ recent and past flawed creations: SB512 and now Pam Roth’s HB3264.

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