The following opinion piece by Diana Rickert was featured in the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Say you’re scheduled to work at 8 a.m. Instead, you mosey in around 8:50 a.m.. Would you expect to be paid for those first 50 minutes?
Moreover, would you expect to still have a job if you regularly showed up late?
For most people, the answer to both questions is “no.” But allow me to introduce you to the world of Illinois state government — where not only is such behavior permissible, it’s incentivized.
Most state government workers are covered by a union contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Tucked away in this contract is an expensive gift: state employees can be up to one hour late for work before their pay is docked. And while workers may be asked to be more adherent to the schedule, there’s no limit to how many days state workers can show up late and still be paid for the time they’re not there.
Public employees are cashing in on this perk.
In the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, 45 percent of workers self-reported showing up to work late in fiscal year 2013, according to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Some of these workers said they were late once or twice, but many were repeat offenders. One worker reported showing up to work late 94 times over the course of the year. Another reported arriving late 84 times, documents show.
In total, more than 125 workers in the agency reported that they had arrived at work late more than 30 times during fiscal year 2013.
During that same year, nearly one-third of workers in the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services showed up to work late, logging 1,985 hours of time that was paid but not worked.
DCFS has long complained about being underfunded and understaffed. But how many cases of abuse and neglect could have been handled if those hours had been worked?
Now, no one is expecting government workers — or any workers, for that matter — to be robots. Traffic happens. Garage doors are left open. Kids forget their homework or lunch.
But suppose a state worker stays late to make up for lost work time. Under the AFSCME contract, in addition to being paid for the missed time in the morning, that worker is now eligible for overtime pay later in the day.
“They can be up to an hour late with no consequences, but if they work a minute later after check-out time, it’s overtime, and taxpayers are stuck paying for that,” said Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan. While flexible schedules can be beneficial for the employer and the employee, that flexibility has to be a two-way street, Vernuccio said.
State government isn’t the only place where workers showing up to work late on the taxpayers’ dime has been a problem.
In recent years, the Chicago Transit Authority has cracked down on workers who showed up late. CTA employees are eligible for discharge after being tardy four times in a year. Fifty bus drivers were fired in the first eight months of 2012 for showing up late an excessive number of times, the Tribune reported. Thirteen rail workers were fired in that time for the same offense.
While the CTA is not the emblem of an efficient government, the attempt to curb this abuse is more than can be said for state government.
DCFS was contacted multiple times for comment, but did not respond. It’s unfortunate, because I’ve been told that efforts actually were made to curb the tardiness — but management’s hands were tied by the AFSCME contract.
Illinois politicians are trying to hard-sell the public on higher taxes. They promised the state tax increase passed in 2011 would be temporary, and that it would partially expire in 2015. Illinois taxpayers did their part, and now they’re eagerly awaiting the tax relief that was promised.
But now, some politicians claim they can’t afford to keep that promise. They say they’ve already streamlined government, cut the budget. There are no more savings to be had, they say.
Is paying people who show up to work late the biggest budget item? No. But it demonstrates the immense disconnect between the real world and the world of government. The state spends millions of dollars paying people for time they’re not even working — and then politicians have the gall to say they need more of your money.
More than 600,000 Illinoisans woke up today and didn’t have a job to go to. I’m sure any of them would love to show up on time.