Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Rockville won't reduce work-related injury paid leave benefits for City employees

Rockville's Mayor and Council voted against adopting a reduction in work-related injury paid leave benefits for City employees last night. City Manager Robert DiSpirito had recommended against adopting the policy change at this time, after getting negative feedback from employee unions. DiSpirito said the concern over the loss of benefits was particularly strong among those employees most likely to be hurt on the job, such as police officers, trash collectors and other public works personnel.

Given the pandemic and economic situation of the moment, "we feel that the timing of this is not optimal," DiSpirito told the Mayor and Council. He said there is no evidence of any abuse of the current policy, and that it has rarely even been used by employees, making the potential cost savings of a change negligible to non-existent. 

DiSpirito did acknowledge that the city's 2-year work-related injury paid leave exceeds the benefit provided by most jurisdictions. The City of Gaithersburg and Frederick County offer a maximum of 90 days paid leave for work-related injuries; Montgomery County offers 12-18 months, depending on whether the County's network of physicians is utilized by the employee; Westminster, Hagerstown and Bowie offer no work-related injury paid leave beyond statuatory limits.

Councilmembers Beryl Feinberg and Mark Pierzchala argued that Rockville should begin adjusting its policy to be more in line with other jurisdictions. Feinberg proposed capping paid leave at 18 months. She said employees have other options, such as short-term or long-term disability. Employees have little incentive to urgently seek medical treatment with such generous paid leave, Feinberg suggested.

"Did you talk to every employee," or just union leaders, Feinberg asked DiSpirito. The City Manager later mentioned it was his understanding that the unions discussed the issue extensively with their memberships, before offering their responses to the proposed benefit cut. 

Pierzchala said he agreed with everything Feinberg said, except that he felt the cap on paid leave should be 12 months, not 18. In his own experience and observation working with the federal government, Pierzchala said, employees out on paid leave force the remaining employees to cover their work in addition to their own duties. He dismissed negative union feedback as a reason to vote against the policy change. "What do you expect" they're going to say in response to a reduction of an existing benefit Pierzchala asked. 

But there was no further support on the body for adoption of the new policy. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said that it was the City employees who are "doing the heavy lifting" who would be hurt most by the change. The reduction is not justified, she argued. "There is no history of abuse in the city," Newton said. She noted that department directors continued to collect a $5400 car allowance benefit during the more than two years that City Hall was closed for the pandemic. Nobody said a word about that, she recalled.

Councilmember Dr. David Myles also indicated he would oppose the reduction, particularly given the current health and economic environment. "You're just kicking somebody who is already down," he said. Councilmember Monique Ashton pointed to the fact that workers hurt on the job are "injured doing the jobs we ask them to do." Municipal employees "do a risky job and serve our city," she said. Concurring with the arguments regarding the pandemic, economic concerns and the absence of abuse of the policy, "I don't think this is the time" to slash the benefit, Ashton said.

Ashton then moved to deny adoption of the policy change. Myles seconded her motion. The motion passed 3-2, with Feinberg and Pierzchala opposed.

1 comment:

  1. "She said employees have other options, such as short-term or long-term disability."

    Actually, they don't have short term disability benefits, only long term. So if they don't have a chronic condition this policy may be the only thing protecting them.