Sick pay is for when you’re sick. If you’re not sick and you don’t use it, you lose it. This is the simple policy fix to one of New Jersey’s most maddening problems. Yet, again and again, we have failed to write it into law.
There is no justifiable reason. Sick pay is supposed to protect you from losing income when you’re ill — not amount to a kingly entitlement bonus. You don’t deserve a six-figure payout just for being healthy.
Private-sector employees don’t get that kind of perk. Yet as Colleen O’Dea of NJ Spotlight reports, public workers are still walking off the job with huge payouts of up to $500,000 for their unused sick and vacation days — adding up to a bill of nearly $2 billion, thanks to Trenton gridlock.
Gov. Chris Christie wanted a tough reform, but the Democratic Legislature said no and gave him back a weaker one — and in the end he wouldn’t sign it. Now we don’t even have a weak reform. New bills to cap these payouts haven’t even gotten ahearing.
We are witnessing a total leadership meltdown. In the meantime, the continuing dysfunctional obedience to public worker unions is really costing us big-time. Thousands of public employees are racking up benefits. When Jersey City’s police chief walks off the job, he could set a new record: 444 accrued days of sick leave and vacation that add up to a $503,533 payout — $1,134 per day.
Jersey City is the worst offender in the state; its police department alone has a bigger bill for sick-leave payouts than the entire city of Newark, the second-biggest payer.
The taxpayers are getting soaked, yet Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Union) was blocked by the Democrats last month when she led a Republican effort to push forward a bill to prevent employees from accruing any more of these payouts.
The cap the state put on in 2010 — which stopped the accumulation at $15,000 — was a good first step. But it applied only to new hires; public employees hired previously could still rack up these payouts.
We need a much stronger state solution, and local government also needs to put its foot down. Thanks to the union power that helps elect town officials, public workers are represented on both sides of the table when negotiating these benefits.
If your town gets a perk, the next town wants it, too. It has to end somewhere. Collective bargaining is badly broken in the public sector, and the taxpayers are getting burned.