Use it or lose it. That’s how most private-sector employers treat sick and/or vacation time — benefits that are commonly provided in the workplace but aren’t mandated by law. It’s also the way they should be treated in the public sector.
Sick time is designed to ensure that workers don’t feel obligated to work when they’re so sick that working would jeopardize their own health as well as that of their co-workers, while vacation time guards against job burnout, which serves neither the employee nor the employer very well.
Unfortunately, the idea of letting workers “bank” their annual allotments of sick and vacation time has became a popular bargaining chip during labor negotiations, because it’s an alternative to pay raises that delays the impact on the employer’s bottom line. But as inflation and salaries inexorably rise, and banked time typically gets paid off at the worker’s final rate of pay — instead of the rate it was earned — the impact can be quite severe.
The mayor of a small, financially troubled city like Gloversville knows this all too well. Yet it didn’t stop Tim Hughes — a one-term mayor who left office Jan. 1 after losing a September primary — from trying to cash in what he claims is $11,360 in unused sick and vacation time from his four years on the job. Fortunately, the Common Council deadlocked, 3-3, Tuesday night on a vote to give him the money, but is still considering the matter.
Advocates on the council say that because there’s nothing prohibiting them from granting the mayor the same benefits that rank-and-file employees get, they can do so. Perhaps they can — the matter is being researched — but even if they can doesn’t mean that they should. That’s especially so given the precarious condition of the city’s finances, and the fact that other department heads have recently given up buybacks.
The council had ample time to clarify this issue after it came up with part-time City Attorney John Clo early last year. Admittedly, the mayor’s job is full-time, and not particularly well paid, but that shouldn’t matter. The 1998 management contract provision that allows some department heads to bank unused sick and vacation time didn’t apply to the mayor or city attorney; moreover, it didn’t apply to the positions, only the particular employees in them at the time. Thus there’s no justification for either Clo or Hughes to be paid these benefits. The council needs to clarify this issue once and for all.