JULIE CARR SMYTH
AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS — Ohio will pay cash to tens of thousands of state workers this month to make up for personal days they gave up over the past two years to help balance the state budget, The Associated Press has learned.
Each full-time employee is receiving the equivalent of four days’ wages plus four sick days in exchange for eight personal days they agreed not to accrue under a 2009 union contract. The money comes Aug. 26; the sick days were added in July.
The contract was touted at the time by both unions and then-Gov. Ted Strickland’s administration for the concessions it contained in the midst of the national recession, including the personal day accrual cuts, 10 forced furlough days, pay freeze and an increased share of health care costs for workers. The state calculates that the contract has saved it about $400 million during the past two years.
It also included provisions for the personal day reimbursements, though they were not emphasized at the time.
Sally Meckling, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, the largest union involved in the contract negotiations, said the personal-day reimbursement is a small bright spot.
“State employees still sacrificed much more than they got back,” she said. “State employees still saved $250 million for the state over the life of our contract, and another $100 million in health care costs.”
Meckling said the contract’s 10 furlough days for all employees had the effect of ratcheting down average wages.
“Those are the kinds of losses that can never be recouped,” she said.
Employees must have worked for all of the past two years to receive the entire four days’ wages and four days of sick leave. Others will receive reduced amounts.
The provision for freezing personal day accrual for two years and receiving the cash and sick-day reimbursement was agreed to by all unions, and also applies to state workers not represented by unions. It does not apply to employees of the Legislature, Ohio Supreme Court and Auditor’s Office.
Payouts will cost the state between $40 million and $45 million, a sum already accounted for in the current state budget. The Department of Administrative Services says swapping sick for personal days is beneficial for the state, because sick time — unlike personal time — is only partially reimbursed when unused.
The Kasich administration has taken on public employee unions in an overhaul of collective bargaining laws, but the administration was not prepared to criticize the reimbursement, said Department of Administrative Services communications director Peiter Wykoff.
“I’m not really here to defend the previous administration. However, I must say the state employees didn’t get that much in this last contract,” he said. “This is one little thing that they’re getting back. They didn’t get raises, they gave up personal leave for two years, they paid more for health care. It’s not like the previous administration gave that much to the employees. These aren’t bonuses.”
Meckling said the August payouts will average to about $8 a week per employee over the remainder of the four-year contract, which expires next year.
“That’s hardly a windfall,” she said. “You can’t even buy a pizza for a family on Friday night with $8 a week.”