Act now on eye-opening study of rife county absenteeism
Written by Michael Lewis on January 2, 2018
If everything local government does seems to cost more than in the private sector, one pivotal reason might be that county employees are paid so many more days to stay home.
As we reported last week, more than one-sixth of the time Miami-Dade County employees are being paid not to come to work.
Companies that paid their workers so much for totally non-productive time would have closed long ago – more productive and efficient competitors would kill them in the marketplace.
But government has no competition, so there’s no reason beyond decency, responsibility and pure voter outrage for those in charge to keep a lid on costs.
As the records show, the lid on county payroll costs is loose. Tightening in the right places would benefit both the public and the thousands of county employees whose sense of responsibility causes them to show up and do productive work every day.
Back in May 2017, Commissioner Rebeca Sosa asked the mayor’s office to break down the absentee rate among county workers. The report that Mayor Carlos Giménez issued in response on Dec. 18 was eye-opening, but not reassuring.
The report show that the average county employee has scheduled leave about 11% of the time – one day out of every nine – for a variety of holidays, vacation time, union activity, military leave, jury duty, administrative leave, educational leave and more. Those are a lot of days for administrators to arrange to cover for absent employees – but at least they can be planned for.
Beyond those days, the average county employee is absent more than one day out of 20 for illness or just plain not showing up, days nobody can plan for but still must be covered. The mayor in his report notes that these absences can mean overtime pay for other workers to fill the unexpected gaps – and overtime adds to the county’s payroll costs.
In both planned and unplanned time off, county employees are being paid not to show up far more often than are workers in general in this nation.
For example, the county gives 13 paid holidays. Federal law does not require any paid holidays, though most employers offer them. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics found the average US salaried worker gets 7.6 paid holidays. The nonprofit WorldAtWork found an average of nine days.
Clearly, the county is more than generous with our tax money by rewarding its workers far more liberally than the rest of us are.
Then look at those unscheduled leaves, those days when people just plain don’t show up.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics found in studies that in 2016 the average US worker was absent for illness, injury or other reasons 1.5% of the time – fewer than five days a year. But the county’s transit workers are absent 14.2% of the time for those reasons – nearly 10 times as often.
Pardon us, but is driving a bus so dangerous that injuries and illnesses are 10 times as frequent as the national average, or is it that the county is worse than lax in overseeing the workers that the public – not elected or appointed officials – pays? You know the answer.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics looked at transportation workers nationally and found the unscheduled absenteeism rate at 2.9%, about one-fifth the rate of our county’s transit workers.
The county’s transit workers are by far the worst examples, but unscheduled absenteeism is rife in the county. The average county worker is absent 5.2% of the time, more than triple the national average.
Examples by department: workers in both communications and public housing are absent for illness or not showing up 7% of the time. In corrections and rehabilitation, the homeless trust, legal aid, the economic advocacy trust and solid waste it’s 6%. Seven more departments have unscheduled absenteeism of 5%.
It’s not government in general with the high illness and no-show rates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that while the national rate of work time lost to illness, injury or not showing up was 1.5%, the rate for all local governments combined in this nation is merely 1.7% – just a tick more than the average of all workers.
Miami-Dade County’s hours lost by workers who are sick or don’t show up is 5.2%, more than three times as much as that national local government average.
Combine those unscheduled and scheduled days away and totals are staggering – at lease by private industry standards. Transit workers at 22.2% and police supervisors at 20.7% are absent more than one day a week for all reasons.
Workers in water and sewer, aviation, solid waste and rank-and-file police are out for all reasons more than one day out of six.
Every other category of county worker is ill or missing more than one day out of seven.
Every employer reading these numbers should gasp. How could you run your business efficiently having to fill in employee gaps so often – and how could you do it with such a large percentage of the workforce calling in sick each day or just not showing up? Virtually impossible.
It’s a wonder, in fact, that the county functions as well as it does with so many personnel gaps popping up so often everywhere.
But wonder or not, it’s also incumbent on those in charge – commissioners, mayor and administrators – to get the absentee ratios out of the stratosphere and back into the realm of normal.
In the old days there was a sense of government service. Private pay and benefits were far better, but government was both steady employment and a calling for those who wanted to serve the public. Today, it seems, the reverse may be true.
It’s true that government unions are strong and they control votes that elected officials need. But collective bargaining need not give away the store – particularly when what is being given away belongs to the voters themselves.
Even with strong union contracts, triple the normal illness rates can and should be brought under control. Sick rates should not be negotiable numbers, nor numbers that county officials should tolerate.
The business community should be pressuring elected officials not to shelve this eye-opening study but to act on it now.