by Paul Kersey
Director of Labor Policy
A recent report from the Chicago Tribune shows that during the last five years the state put 2,033 employees on paid leave, with 68 workers receiving their full salaries for a year or more while not working. Some workers have been suspended for more than two years. Overall, paid leave cost the state – meaning taxpayers – $23 million during that period.
Employees are generally put on paid leave when they are accused of serious misconduct; while on leave the matter is supposed to be investigated and disciplinary hearings held. But the Tribune discovered that at least one employee was on paid leave for driving too fast in a staff parking lot. The paper quoted the governor’s office, which defended the practice as necessary to ensure that employees receive due process, but the paper also found that “the process can be slowed by communication problems, staff shortages, and lengthy investigations.”
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) spokesman Anders Lindall agreed that investigations and leaves last too long, but it would be naïve to assume that the union will act decisively to prevent more abuses of paid leave. The union has little incentive to fix this problem. Paid leave may be considered a sanction by state law, but whether or not it is an effective punishment depends on the employee’s outlook; one worker’s paid suspension is another’s paid vacation, and some workers supplement their state salary by taking temporary jobs while on paid leave, turning their punishment into a chance to earn extra cash. As long as the employee is content, there’s little else that the union needs to worry about if paid leave drags on. The union does not pay the worker’s salary, and as long as the union can convince co-workers (who may only hear one side of the story) that the state is holding up the process, then it need not worry about repercussions from other employees either.
In the meantime, taxpayers continue to pay the bill and suffer from the abuse of paid leave. Taxpayers also have the most to gain if lawmakers eliminate or curtail the current practice. As the state’s chief executive, it falls upon the Gov. Quinn to insist on changes to grievance and disciplinary rules to prevent workers from abusing the process. This could happen either in bargaining or by an act of the general assembly, but either way it would help if the governor could muster the courage to stand up to union bosses.