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 Unlike school administrators, the media do not cite them as examples when documenting the abuses in the private sector.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.