By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
TAMPA— Ever thought of taking all those saved sick days and vacation days and exchanging them for some cold, hard cash?
That’s the promotional offer being handed out to Florida state employees when they retire, resign or receive their pink slip, as enshrined in state law.
Public sector employees were awarded $51.7 million in cash compensation for unused sick time in 2011, according to the FY 2012 budget, taking advantage of a luxury not always offered to workers in the private sector.
That amount was given out to 28,000 state employees who lost their jobs in budget cuts, retired or voluntarily left their jobs, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
A rather rudimentary provision in the state budget guarantees a state employee’s access to cash compensation in the event of leftover sick or leave time.
“Payments for unused annual leave credits accrued on the member’s last anniversary date shall be prorated at 1/12th of the last annual amount credited for each month, or portion thereof, worked subsequent to the member’s last anniversary date,” states Section 8 of the FY 2012 budget, dedicated to salaries and benefits.
Sick leave cash payouts are standard practice in public sector union negotiations with cities and states, although not always as generous.
In the arbitrated agreement between the city of Miami and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, in effect from October 2011 until September 2012,compensation for unused sick time is offered only to long-term employees and is capped at 750 hours.
Miami’s city workers who are fired do not receive sick leave compensation.
AFSCME spokesman Chris Flemming and the Service Employees International Union Florida Chapter declined to comment when asked by Florida Watchdog.
While the new figures likely will prove shocking to many Florida residents, anger about the issue has been brewing for some time.
Orlando businessman Matthew Falconer, who ran for mayor in 2010, first brought state attention to the loophole when he revealed what he called the “Florida Wage Parity Act” in March of 2011, aimed at “ensuring equality” between private and public sector pay.
In a column on the conservative political website Florida Political Press, run by Orlando-based tea party blogger Tom Tillison, Falconer describes his proposed legislation at length, decrying public sector sick leave and vacation compensation as “unfair and unsustainable.”
“A typical Orlando fire lieutenant with 18 years of service has a 2,080 hour work year. He received 250 hours of vacation, 120 hours for sick leave, 132 hours for paid holidays, 48 hours for court proceedings, 12 hours for voting, 72 hours for bereavement leave, 48 hours for union conventions, and 12 hours for passing a physical fitness test,” wrote Falconer.
“That amounts to 694 hours off in this hypothetical year, meaning he works only 1,386 hours a year—he can get paid for 33 percent of the year without working.”
Falconer was unsuccessful in his attempts to lobby the Florida Legislature to adopt the bill, and has since declared interest in seeking office to pursue the issue.
He did not return calls to Florida Watchdog.
A USA TODAY analysis released in March 2011 revealed that Florida’s public sector workers enjoy an average yearly compensation, including salaries and benefits, of $58,749, while equivalent workers in the private sector receive $9,900 less.