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Cross-posted in Huffington Post - Chicago

This past weekend, I felt like I had the same conversation every 15 minutes regarding the Chicago Sun-Times and Better Government Association report on CPS employee unused sick days. Knowing that I was a teacher, over and over again, many of my friends and acquaintances told me, "You know, in the private sector, we don't get to roll over our sick days like teachers do."

One problem is that the coverage of this report made the policy seem like it leads to huge windfalls for teachers, which is false. The large payouts highlighted went to administrators. Another problem is more societal; we tend to aim for the lowest common denominator in what we consider proper working conditions.

The CPS sick day policy is quite simple: each year teachers receive 10 sick days. We are discouraged from using them all. Despite the fact we work in an environment that exposes us to colds and flu daily, too many absences can be used against a teacher during a performance evaluation.

When a teacher calls in sick, unlike most jobs, a replacement must be hired for the day, representing an immediate cost to the district. When an employee chooses to roll over the sick day, the district does not have to pay a substitute teacher for the day. The district has the opportunity to invest the money that would have otherwise been used to pay for a sub.

CPS employees have no coverage for catastrophic illness or maternity/paternity leave. The Board of Education and Chicago Teachers Union negotiated a plan where teachers can use banked sick days for that purpose. Many teachers will donate banked sick days to coworkers who are out with a catastrophic illness and have run out of sick days.

It was a plan that made sense. It may not be what others receive, but it was a plan that took in account all scenarios.

Most people understood my point but maintained, "That's not how it is in the private sector."

The use of the term "private sector" is disingenuous. "Private sector" includes everyone who doesn't work for a public entity. Technically, the CEOs who pilfered from their clients, took a public bailout, crashed the economy and rode out golden parachutes were "members of the private sector." Unlike school administrators, the media do not cite them as examples when documenting the abuses in the private sector.

When someone attacks me for the $14,000 I may receive for banked sick days after 20 years of service (or when I reach age 65), should I remind them that General Electric CEO John Welch received over $417 million on his way out? That is "how things are in the private sector."

Let's look at how life is for the rank-and-file workers in the private sector. Let's use Mr. Welch's employees as an example. Mr. Welch laid off thousands of them under his tenure as a means of gaming the market and increasing G.E.'s stock values. Despite billions in government contracts, G.E. paid no taxes in 2010.

Is this the "private sector" model that we should look to as the gold standard for running an organization?

Private-sector workers should not tear down teachers, police and firefighters for some of the benefits received for having fought collectively. They need to organize and demand a fair wage and benefits in their workplaces.

There's money in the private sector, they are just are not getting any of it.

The Republic Windows workers in Chicago showed what can be done in the private sector in the face of corruption and mismanagement. The owners abruptly closed the plant and announced that workers would not receive severance pay and purchased a non-union plant in Iowa to replace the workers. The Republic Windows workers did not allow this to happen. They occupied their plant for nearly a week, forcing Bank of America to negotiate a loan with management to fund their severance.

This fight grabbed national headlines and a new owner bought the company, promising jobs to the laid-off Republic workers.

The Republic Windows workers did not accept this abuse and point a finger at the public workers. They put their differences aside, they organized, and they won.

Let's use their example as the gold standard.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    "Your conspiracy theories won't work without evidence." -Nasir Jones

    by Tristero 312 on Wed Feb 08, 2012 at 09:22:27 AM PST

  •  I've been a college teacher... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Uncle Moji

    ...since 1976. I've missed two days because I was having surgery, I think.

  •  Sick days are always one of those (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    redlum jak, ladybug53

    touchy, emotional issues, that cause people to say things like "I've never missed a day of work sick in 40 years, I came to work with a 102 fever" as some kind of sign of work heroism. For some reason, we see physical sickness as some kind of moral weakness, I don't get it, but I've seen it.

    Most businesses, especially non-unionized businesses do not allow employees to roll over (un-maxed) sick days, and do not pay them out upon termination/retirement. So, this is a benefit not enjoyed by most employees in the private sector, and even by most employees in more recent union contracts. When days are rolled, the value has to counted as an encumbered loss on their books by the finance folks, and they hate this - but it's their nature to hate such things.

    I think arguing the net value to the taxpayers of allowing roll over and pay outs (rather than paying the per diem rate of substitute teachers - I am still not certain that it isn't cheaper to hire a per diem, though it is more disruptive) is a risky one, because, as you have found, most people are not sympathetic to a benefit they will never enjoy, either the roll over, or the golden parachute.

    This doesn't mean I don't support you or the benefits negotiated on your behalf by your union, I just wonder if the tack you have taken is the most effective in swaying doubters.

    My own feeling is that the Teachers Unions ought to be doing a job in countering the rightwing image of teachers as lazy part-timers. Jon Stewart is particularly effective at pointing out how many hours his mother, a teacher, put into her job, unpaid. If teachers could track their actual unpaid work hours (grading, curriculum development, mentoring, cleaning, advising, etc) and once a year, say, put an ad in the local paper that says "Hours Donated To You by Your Teachers", the actual taxes saved by taxpayers of the services and skills donated unpaid each year by teachers to our towns, cities, and states, might make discussing "rollover sick days" moot. I would suspect the value of the years of hours you have donated unpaid to your students way exceeds the potential $14K you might receive for sick time when you retire.

    Best wishes.

    "Out of Many, One." This is the great promise of our nation -9.75 -6.87

    by Uncle Moji on Wed Feb 08, 2012 at 10:59:43 AM PST

    •  ps. I was eager to read your diary (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ladybug53

      as I am home sick and work for an employer who does not offer paid sick days. The ultimate kick in the pants, being sick and getting poorer.

      I have always favored more and better sick and leave time for employees, because it is the right thing to do. Unions have been on the forefront of what I consider a basic work benefit.

      Keep on fighting.

      "Out of Many, One." This is the great promise of our nation -9.75 -6.87

      by Uncle Moji on Wed Feb 08, 2012 at 11:12:12 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  It could be worse (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ladybug53

    I agree and totally sympathize with the grief you put up with as a teacher. Still, things could be worse. At least you don't live 50, 100, or 150 miles north of Chicago. Then you'd really know what it's like to be a despised public sector employee.

    The Bush Family: 0 for 4 in Wisconsin

    by Korkenzieher on Wed Feb 08, 2012 at 02:14:24 PM PST

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