January 7, 2010

Warwick Sick Pay Imbroglio

Marc Comtois

UPDATE (bumped): Jim Hummel and the ProJo have now covered the Warwick sick time controversy. The ProJo reports different figures--$358,000 in total sick time bonuses--than those previously reported by the Warwick Beacon (a combined $694,000).

The contract language that grants these incentives for the three separate bargaining units dates back more than two decades, according to city officials, but the topic is percolating again these days as the City Council reviews an accounting of the roughly $358,000 the city paid out in bonuses for 2009.

Mayor Scott Avedisian said Wednesday he is issuing an executive order that will eliminate the benefit for non-union classified employees. That group includes most division heads and will save about $54,000 this year, he said.

Mayor Avedisian was on the John DePetro show to briefly discuss this and stated that the ProJo numbers were correct as opposed to those earlier reported by the Warwick Beacon. (On the other hand, Jim Hummel's report is in line with the Beacon's, including links to pertinent documents--PDF1, PDF2). Mayor Avedisian explained that it would take a re-opening of contract (PDF) negotiations to remove the provisions for union employees. The disconnect between private and public sector is all too obvious:
Daniel Beardsley, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, said that paying benefits to employees for unused sick time “is a very common contract provision” in the public sector and, in many cases, dates to the late 1970s when many cities and towns were having financial problems and were looking for things other than pay raises to offer employees....

Bob Eubank, executive director Northeast Human Resources Association in Waltham, Mass., said that giving bonuses for unused sick time is a rarity in the private sector.

Not to mention getting 15 sick days (3 weeks!) a year. Who gets that in the private sector?

Original post "below the fold".


I've failed you, according to a couple commenters. So, in an attempt to make up for an apparent lack of diligence on my part over the holiday season, I thought I'd offer a quick thought regarding the revelations that Warwick paid $531,000 for unused firefighter sick time and other city workers $163,000. Former Warwick School Committee member and City Councilman Bob Cushman lays the blame at Mayor Scott Avedisian's feet:

What makes this expenditure so egregious is that the mayor has been one of the most vocal critics denouncing the cuts, preaching that he and other leaders have done all they can to cut spending and consolidate departments.

In the last two years, over a million dollars in Warwick tax dollars have been spent on sick pay bonuses and buyouts. That, on top of the $2 million spent for the $600 annual cap on employee-family prescription drugs, and the millions that would be saved with healthcare co-pays more in line with the private sector for all employees, would provide Warwick with more than enough to survive the proposed cuts without reducing municipal jobs, reducing services or increasing property taxes.

Obviously, these sick pay bonuses need to be looked into and, pragmatically, suspended during this crisis. As for Mayor Avedisian, it's pretty tough to take seriously a cry of poverty when such largesse is on display.

ADDENDUM: I usually don't acquiesce to antagonistic charges that I've somehow performed my unpaid, free-time job inadequately during the holiday season whilst dealing with numerous ailments amongst my family. But I checked the archives and didn't readily find anything about this story on the blog and I agree that the story is important--if already well covered elsewhere. So, there you go...

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

I'm a big proponent of zero "sick time" given to workers. If you have professionals doing a job, you give them what they need, and they take what they need. Nothing more, nothing less. You're sick, take a day off. You're not sick, come to work. That's pretty easy. If the people are not professional and adult to handle that concept, they shouldn't be doing the job, bottom line.

Posted by: Patrick at January 6, 2010 9:11 PM

Those payments are a big part of the high morale that makes Warwick's government run so efficiently.

Posted by: BobN at January 7, 2010 12:46 AM

Hey, if you don't think that high morale is an important part of running a business or city, then you don't know much about running an organization. Right, DY?

Posted by: Patrick at January 7, 2010 8:26 AM

Sorry to hijak this thread, from today's Boston Herald:

"They point to a recent price agreement between National Grid and a Rhode Island wind-farm developer as cause for alarm.

The Rhode Island deal calls for National Grid to pay an eye-popping 24 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity from Deepwater Wind’s proposed wind farm off Block Island for 20 years. That’s three times higher than the current price of natural-gas generated electricty - and the Rhode Island deal includes a 3.5 percent annual price increase over the life of the contract."

I hadn't seen this in the local news.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at January 7, 2010 9:18 AM
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