SEIU fights to protect sick-time routine

A La Crosse, WI city workers union is fighting the city’s attempt to impose a stricter attendance policy. “You can’t change the contract unless you bargain it,” said Rich Smith, president of Service Employees International Union Local 180. “We’re going to ask for something in return.” Smith said the union, which represents about 185 workers, is going to file a prohibited labor practice complaint against the city.

Smith said the policy in the existing contract says SEIU employees have to call in when they take sick leave. Each department handles call-ins differently, Smith said. Under Geissner’s new policy, an employee would have to notify their supervisor or the supervisor’s designee before the start of a shift, unless incapacitated.

Earlier this month, the La Crosse Common Council authorized Personnel Director Jim Geissner to institute a new attendance policy for SEIU workers after getting a report showing workers in that bargaining unit took more sick leave than transit workers and non-union workers.

Geissner said the attendance policy doesn’t change the entitlements in the union’s contract, it just spells out how they’re administered. The proposed policy also includes penalties for employees who are chronically late to work and limits when employees can leave their jobs for medical appointments.

Geissner said a similar policy the city put in place for the transit workers union is working.

In 2006, transit workers took sick leave an average 3.3 times, while SEIU workers took it 8.3 times and non-union workers took it 2.7 times. However, SEIU workers took fewer hours of sick leave each time. Non-union workers took an average of 8.7 hours, while transit workers took 8.5 hours and SEIU workers took 5.3 hours.

SEIU workers took an average of 44.1 hours of sick leave in 2006, while transit workers took 27.9 hours and non-union workers took 23.6 hours.

SEIU workers earn one day of sick leave each month, up to 120 days, and when they retire or die, the city will make a lump sum payment equal to 45 percent of those unused days. Police and firefighters can also accumulate 120 sick days, but beyond that they get annual bonuses based on extra unused days.

Police and firefighters were not included in the study because Geissner said absenteeism isn’t a problem.


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