BOSTON — The sponsor of a bill that would limit buyback of unused sick-leave and vacation time for public employees acknowledged Tuesday that her bill is unlikely to become law this session but urged fellow lawmakers to nonetheless take steps against “extraordinary payouts.”
“Taxpayers are angry,” Rep. Colleen Garry told the Joint Committee on Public Service Wednesday. “The private sector doesn’t usually get this kind of thing because the private sector can’t afford to do it. Why should the public sector be able to afford to do it? It’s not a responsible way of budgeting for the future.”
Garry, a Dracut Democrat, said she filed the bill (H 4289) after learning of payouts totaling nearly $400,000 made to the retiring president and executive vice president at Middlesex Community College and later hearing about the $269,984 payment made to former Bridgewater State University President Dana Mohler-Faria.
In March, following reports detailing Mohler-Faria’s compensation package, Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago announced an “official and comprehensive review of decades-old leave policies” in the state’s higher education system.
The House budget for the 2017 fiscal year included an amendment creating a commission to study sick-leave buyback policies at state agencies, with a report due by October of this year.
Under Garry’s bill, payments for unused sick or vacation time made to departing employees across the public sector would be capped at 15 percent of their annual salary. The limit would only apply to new government contracts and not affect workers whose benefits were set under previously negotiated agreements, Garry said.
“I know that this bill is not going to pass the way that it is, and I ask you to try to help us figure out the best way to do this, to save the taxpayers, to make it fair for those who are paying the bill but to honor our public employees and pay them what they’re worth now, not just push off their payments to the future,” Garry said.
Garry’s bill was met opposition from a series of unions representing public employees, including the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, the New England Police Benevolent Association, the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the American Federation of Teachers. The union representatives described reports of large payouts for administrators as outliers that do not reflect rank-and-file workers who earned their leave.
MTA President Barbara Madeloni said the bill “sweeps away collective bargaining rights and fair compensation for state, municipal and county employees.”
“This bill would also unjustly undermine the diligent work being done by those public servants who put off vacation time and sick leave in the interest of getting the job done, those who sacrifice time with family and friends with the knowledge they will be compensated for the sacrifice in the future,” Madeloni said.
Sen. James Timilty, who co-chairs the Public Service Committee, told the union representatives that he had “some concerns with the large payouts, but not what has been bargained for in good faith.”