I'm taking an opportunity to flush out the position I have when it comes to the sick-day issue. While I've often expressed it in bursts of 140 characters, it deserves more space than that.
Why? Obviously driven by the reduction of annual sick days from two per month to one a month that was in the government's objectives from the start on the 2012-14 contracts. It was tied to a the elimination of the ability to bank unused sick days that still existed within many (but not all) boards.
Context often lacking from much reporting on this subject is that banked days are not lost-- they're vested. Employees simply cannot add to the bank from September 2012 onwards.
As I've understood it, in those areas where it exists, this large a number of annual sick days and bankable days were negotiated into agreements as a means of accomplishing a number of items.
First, the sheer number recognized that teachers are both exposed to a higher degree of illness due to the vectors of illness they move amongst every day (ie: kids get sick a lot and spread illness easily), are more likely to become sick themselves as a result and for the sake of their students, not keep spreading illness.
The bankability also accomplished another element-- it became a de facto short-term disability plan where, in situations where a teacher needed to use their annual allotment but still was not healthy enough to return to work, s/he could dip into their bank of unused days without financial penalty. If an employee used all their days, I'm pretty sure every school board had long-term disability plans that would kick in after that.
Along the way however, the bankability was also negotiated into a payout. Depending on the board, on departure or retirement and in some cases also length of service, any banked days would be paid out. In most places there was a cap on the number of days that could be banked in order to limit the employer's future financial liability.
Somewhere along the way, that bankability became a part of some teachers' retirement planning. They'd let days accumulate (by nature of good health or by working when they could have been off sick) and in exchange on retirement have a nice little nest egg to tap into.
This arrangement is not exclusive to teachers. It exists in many areas -- particularly within the public service -- and off the top of my head some of the more egregious sick-day bankers are in the emergency services, police and fire more so than EMS.
To be clear, my position on bankability applies to all those publicly funded folks who can bank days. I'm not just being critical of the practice in education-- it's topical to education now because of being a government goal in these contracts.
Let's consider the above clearly. Let's also consider what sick days should be for-- illness. If you're sick (or tending to someone who is, as parents and caregivers often do), take your sick day(s). That's what they're for. They're not holidays. They're not floating days off. They're not meant to be taken (or banked for a gratuity) just because they exist. They're for when you're too ill to be at work.
Employers (school boards) were clearly showing that for whatever reason, most of their staff members were only using about half of their allotted sick days in a year. Averages (with all their foibles) by board spanned between nine and 12 days taken a year. Of course, there are always exceptions, individuals who for valid reasons needed two days a month (or more) to be away from work and put themselves in a position to return to work healthy. However, averages are what they are and most boards were giving employees their days and then watching as 40% to 50% of those days became a long-term liability as they got banked.
Though the methods were more than haphazard, the goal of both reducing the number of allotted annual days and eliminating the ability to continue to bank days were not. Budgeting for closer to actual expenses involved in sick days doesn't create a long-term liability. It's always going to be in the employers' interest to limit these long-term liabilities.
I acknowledge banked days do remove a substantial variability from the annual costs of sick days to an employer. Get a year where more sick days are used than what you've budgeted for without a bank and you're caught where you didn't want to be in the first place. Whereas with a bank in place, you know whether used or unused, your overall budget including any transferred liability will be static.
So in ending bankability and lowering the number of days allotted to closer to the average, the move eliminates any further growth in that existing liability. Recognizing the short-term disability use of banked days, the government also now mandates all in the education sector to be covered by short-term disability plans. This is common practice in the private sector (when this benefit is offered) as it provides some, albeit reduced income to someone who has used all their allotted sick days so they can take the time needed to return to work healthy.
What if that's not good enough compared to past practice? Negotiations didn't happen for public school sector employees (and those in Catholic schools represented by OSSTF or ETFO)-- I recognize the ability to do something there is likely lost. But in future negotiations, be honest about what your members and employees need and bargain for that.
Is the short-term disability plan not good enough? Bargain for a better one.
Is the retirement plan not good enough (recognizing teachers have great pensions, support staff not so much)? Then bargain for a better one.
Is there nothing or not enough in the short- or long-term disability plans for critical illnesses
that require long-term treatment and recovery? Then bargain for that coverage.
In the past, all those needs were met by bargaining for more sick days and the ability to bank 'em and have them paid out on departure. That wasn't the way those needs should have been met.
Keep sick days for when people are sick. Bargain for what's needed to cover the rest.