Duluth city workers get up to six months paid leave per year

State and local governments have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years over the cost of paid sick leave for their employees. In Minnesota, costly but little-known provisions tucked into union contracts allow teachers to cash in sick days and state workers to retire with lump-sum payouts of unused sick time. These generous benefits are rare in the private sector and, more importantly, they obscure the true cost of public employee compensation.

Which brings us to Duluth, and its current contract with AFSCME Council 5 Local 66, which represents the city’s "Basic Unit Employees", excluding police, fire, and supervisory workers.

The union contract has a curiously generous provision related to paid sick leave: "Effective the first day of the month following the date of hire, an Employee shall be granted up to 120 working days of sick leave with full pay (paid sick leave) for each illness or injury during a calendar year."

That’s right, 120 working days. 24 weeks. Six months. Every year.

And according to a document obtained by the Freedom Foundation from the Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS), at least one city employee actually maxed out his sick leave in 2011. That same employee almost maxed out again in 2012, until the city tried to place him on long-term disability.

If you’re wondering which chronic illness or debilitating disease the employee was suffering from, the answer is… high blood pressure or hypertension.

The employee blamed his medical condition on the stress of a "hostile work environment". Curiously, the employee has a habit of making miraculous recoveries just as he maxes out his sick leave, thereby allowing him to return to work and avoid being placed on long-term disability and having his pay reduced.

But in fairness, high blood pressure is a serious health risk and should not be taken lightly. According to a recent survey by the CDC, more than one-quarter of Minnesota’s adult population has also been diagnosed with hypertension.

There are a number of ways to treat and control blood pressure, including eating healthier, maintaining an active lifestyle, and taking prescription medication.

But if all else fails, move to Duluth, get a government job, and take a few months off. The union will take care of the rest.

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