Legislators Examine UW Sick Leave Policy

State Rep. Sheldon Wasserman, D-Milwaukee, said that some lawmakers’ criticisms about the University of Wisconsin’s sick leave rules for faculty are just plain hypocritical.

While some of Wasserman’s legislative colleagues criticize the University of Wisconsin System faculty for accruing sick leave to be used for health care benefits at retirement, all legislators and some high level administration officials have the same perk.

A Legislative Audit Bureau report, which was discussed at a legislative committee hearing on Wednesday, showed that 77 percent of UW faculty didn’t use any sick time in 2005.

“We need better, surer reporting,” said Sen. Carol Roessler, one of the lawmakers who asked for the audit.

According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis, only two of 132 sitting state legislators recorded using any sick time over the past four years. So, 98.5 percent of lawmakers haven’t used any sick time in four years, WISC-TV reported.

“We’re not on a clock system. We work nights; we work weekends; we work on call so to speak.” Roessler said.

The audit of the UW system showed sick leave use was significantly lower in faculty positions when compared to other state agencies.

The reason could be tied to benefits both UW faculty and legislators accrue. Any unused sick leave is banked and, at retirement, can be converted to cash to be used to pay health care premiums, WISC-TV reported.

UW System President Kevin Reilly told the Joint Legislative Audit Committee that the UW is already working to improve reporting requirements among all UW employees, including faculty. Reilly assured legislators that the UW would have a plan in place to implement recommendations by next summer.

Wasserman said lawmakers should not create an accountability system for a perk they shouldn’t have.

“We can’t be hypocrites. We can’t blame others when we should be looking in our own backyard. We have a problem; we have to fix it,” Wasserman said. “This is unheard of. It just doesn’t exist anywhere. Who has jobs like this?”

“Our work schedule is different than anyone in the private sector, and I think that policy needs to be reviewed under that kind of difference,” Roessler said.

On the legislative front, Wasserman has introduced a bill on Wednesday to eliminate sick leave altogether for state lawmakers. He’s floated the bill in past sessions, but had no co-sponsors so he elected not to introduce it.

However, after a series of stories on the sick leave policy in the Journal Sentinel, at least two other legislators are now backing the bill. If enacted, it would cut sick time starting in the 2009 session.

Wasserman said that’s the earliest the bill could be effective since the state Constitution prevents lawmakers from changing pay or benefits in the middle of a legislative session.

Previous Stories:

November 27, 2006: State Lawmakers Can Accrue Sick Leave Instead Of Claiming It
October 13, 2006: Lawmaker: Audit Suggests Abuse Of Sick Leave By UW Faculty, Staff