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NJ's top Democrats back cap on unused sick leave

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The state's Democratic leadership have unveiled plans to rein in on the unused sick time payouts public employees can receive at their retirement.

If the measure passes, teachers, police officers and other public employees would see payouts capped at $7,500, down from the $15,000 imposed by former Gov. Chris Christie, who frequently butted heads with public unions during his tenure.

Assembly Bill 1851 advanced through the Assembly State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday, with the sponsorship Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, though it still needs a vote to pass out of committee.  

Its counterpart in the upper house, Senate Bill 2578, has the backing of Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-37th District, both sponsors.

The grace of all three is often required to push any policy agenda through the State Legislature, especially for Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, who was sworn in as governor in Jan. 2018.

Said Murphy’s press secretary, Dan Bryan, on Thursday: “Gov. Murphy will carefully review any legislation that aims to reduce taxpayer burden. Regarding sick leave payouts, the Governor plans to discuss any proposals or possible steps forward with all involved parties and determine a plan that protects taxpayers, respects collective bargaining, and most importantly supports fairness.”

When Christie signed the $15,000 cap into law in 2010, any public employee hired from then on could only accumulate that many hours’ worth of unused sick days.

But many public employees were grandfathered in, and those such as superintendents and police and fire chiefs accumulated hundreds of thousands of dollars in unused sick time during their decades-long tenure in public employment.

A March 2017 report by NJ Spotlight suggested that together, all of the state’s municipalities owed $1.9 billion in pay for unused absences, including vacation and sick time.

New Jersey’s largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, put out an online statement opposing the measure, urging its members to call and pressure lawmakers to vote down the bill.

“This bill would limit payments for unused sick leave buyout at retirement. This is a clear attack on our rights at the negotiations table to collectively bargain,” the statement reads. “The bill, if passed, would undermine collectively negotiated agreements regarding provisions detailing compensation for earned unused sick days upon retirement.”

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Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel Munoz covers politics and state government for NJBIZ. You can contact him at dmunoz@njbiz.com.

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Frank Feather June 4, 2018 10:15 am

It sounds like a great idea to cap sick leave payout, but there are hidden expenses with changing the policy, especially with workers who have accumulated sick days. Frankly, once a worker reaches her cap of accumulated sick days, she'll start treating sick days as vacation days. For a teacher, this will incur an expense to bring in a substitute, and will be detrimental to the students. So in reality, the money saved at the back end (no more high payouts), will be lost every year (employees will take all their sick days every year).

More creative solutions are needed:
1. Change the payout formula. A sick day should be payed out based on the salary when the day was accumulated and not the final salary. There is no reason that a superintendent, who has accumulated sick days from her time as a teacher, should receive full payout based on her superintendent salary.
2. Any time an employee is promoted (e.g., teacher to vice-principal), accumulated sick leave is paid out.
3. Reduce the number of sick days given each year, especially if you're finding that many employees don't take them all, or the majority of employees are accumulating days. This could be viable for some jobs, such as clerical positions. Many private companies have taken this route, even to the point of eliminating official sick days.

john b May 24, 2018 3:15 pm

Sick time is a benefit that allows people to not lose money if they are out sick. If you are not sick you shouldn't get extra pay you are already being paid for working. It makes no sense that all these days accumulate and then you get paid out at your highest salary. It just amounts to stealing from the taxpayers plain and simple and any one who opposes it on a collective bargaining level should not be taken seriously.

Greg Borsinger May 24, 2018 4:04 pm

A good start at making NJ more competitive through lowering expenses and hopefully eventually taxes - unfortunately this is just a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to be done,

KC May 24, 2018 5:09 pm

Public employees have platinum benefits -- far above & out of touch with market realities these days...all at the NJ taxpayer's expense. Glad to see there's some interest in reining-in the excess.

manfred Mann May 25, 2018 2:53 pm

That being said, the Democratic lawmakers won't be that happy once the CWA and NJEA starting calling in political favors.