By Rachel O’Brien
Deputy Policy Editor, OpenTheBooks.com
Long-serving employees of Baltimore City can rack up months of accrued vacation and sick days and cash in days, thanks to its generous paid time off accrual policy.
However, taxpayers need to see “Every Dime. Online. In Real Time.” How do you debate pay, perks, and pension benefits for public employees if everything is not on the table?
For example, in the first year of employment, city workers can build up to 39 days of paid time off: 12 holidays, 12 sick days, 12 vacation days, and three personal days. That’s nearly eight weeks paid to stay home.
If city worker don’t use all their time, they can “bank” vacation and sick time– subject to rules. Thus, taxpayers end up having millions of dollars in liability for these days. Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com estimate taxpayer liability in Baltimore could exceed $300 million.
Currently, the city refuses to open the books on these employee “banks.”
In March, OpenTheBooks.com requested via a Maryland Public Information Act request that the City of Baltimore tell us how much each employee had accrued in unused sick and vacation time.
Three months later, the city’s Law Department denied the request, claiming releasing the information would violate the PIA, which prohibits the release of employee personnel records. It said the records are “considered personal financial information.”
This is not the case in other cities where we have requested and received the same information.
THE PAID TIME OFF “BANK” RULES
All employees get between 12 and 24 vacation days each year, depending on years of service, according to the city’s civil service rules.
Members of AFSCME, Local 44, AFSCME, Local 558 and Local 2202, as well as firefighters and paramedics, can accumulate up to four years’ worth of unused vacation days, or a max of between 48 and 96 days.
Fire officers and members of the City Union of Baltimore can store up to five years, or between 60 and 120 days.
Police can accumulate up to 192 days, and managerial and professional society employees can store up to eight years’ worth of unused vacation days — or between 96 and 192 days.
Two of the 11 employee designation groups have the option to be paid for up to four years’ worth of unused vacation when they end their employment, while another two employee groups can be paid for unused vacation if they have worked 20 years or more.
All employees get 12 sick days annually and there there’s no limit on the number of days they can accumulate.
These unlimited sick days that accumulate can be used not only for sickness, whether physical or mental, but prenatal or postnatal disability, according to the policy.
Employees can also use the days for treating alcoholism or drug abuse, and can use it to care for a sick child when they have “a highly contagious disease requiring quarantine, isolation, and restrictions,” the policy states.
Up to five sick leave days can be used in a 12-month period for adoption and/or foster care placement.
Employees who retire with pension benefits or who have worked for the city for at least 20 years can cash in their unused sick days, according to the city policy.
The payout conversion rate is based on the agreement with the employee’s relevant bargaining unit and may be one paid day for every three sick days or one paid day for every four sick days, for example.
In 2021, the City of Baltimore paid 13,991 employees more than $952 million in salaries. There are 38 employees who made $200,000 or more, and 2,641 made $100,000 or more.
Based on 2021 payroll figures, just about half — 6,980 people — have worked for the city for 12 years or more.
That means that half the city workforce is eligible to have 144 sick days accumulated if they haven’t used them.
That says nothing of the 4,801 who have worked for the city for 15 years or more, or the 3,112 who have worked there for 20 years or more, the 1,952 who have worked at least 25 years, the 1,226 who have worked at least 30 years, the 529 who have worked at least 35 years, the 254 who have worked at least 40 years and the 88 who have worked 45 years or more.
Of course, not all employees save their sick days; some get sick and use them. But the generous policy means that those who don’t, have months of days off that can be cashed in.
A spokesperson for the mayor didn’t respond to a request for comment by our deadline.
Learn more at OpenTheBooks.com