Ganim, Bridgeport Workers Cash In On Unused Vacation

The following appeared on the Connecticut Post on June 9, 2017 and features comments from OperationsInc CEO David Lewis. To read the original article, please click here

by Brian Lockhart

BRIDGEPORT – When it comes to time off, many private sector workers face using it or losing it before the calendar year ends.

If you work for Bridgeport, it pays not to take a vacation.

Three hundred and thirty eight municipal workers, including Mayor Joe Ganim and key members of his staff, received a total of $406,302 this spring for unused vacation days from 2016.

Ganim topped the list that the city provided to Hearst Connecticut Media with a $5,539 payout. The lowest amount? One dollar and fifty cents.

The maximum amount of vacation time offered a city staffer is five weeks, earned at 20 years on the payroll.

All employees must take at least one full week off or forfeit that time. Staffers who have earned three weeks of vacation can exchange one of those for cash. Those with four weeks are eligible for a buyout for two.

The mayor took advantage of the latter option, according to his office. Although he was sworn in on Dec. 1, 2015, Ganim, as previously reported, was able to pick up, benefits-wise, where he left off in 2003 at the end of his first tenure as mayor.

Ganim was elected mayor in 1991, serving for twelve years until he was convicted of corruption in 2003. But, according to the city, his first year back in office was treated as his thirteenth, so he has four weeks of vacation.

There is an argument to be made a mayor is on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and never really able to take a vacation.

On the other hand, is anyone working beneath a mayor really going to question the chief executive’s time sheet and how many vacation days he used or did not use?

Asked if he had taken time off so far this year, Ganim spokesman Rowena White initially said no. Hearst pointed out to Ganim that during the first week of May he flew to Lebanon to accept a leadership award — he is Lebanese — and the trip was supposed to be on his own dime.

“We definitely classified that as personal,” Ganim said. “I guess that will probably go down as vacation.”

City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer was paid $4,773 for unused vacation days and some of the other veteran lawyers on his staff received similarly sizable, if not higher, payments.

Meyer said one reason is the workload that comes with providing legal counsel to Connecticut’s largest city.

“I’ve had one (paid) day off, other than weekends and holidays, in over a year and a half,” Meyer said. “Honestly, I’d love to have three weeks off.”

He noted that the mayor and his top appointees agreed to take two weeks of unpaid furlough days last year to help reduce the deficit and to encourage unions to agree to similar givebacks. Meyer said he took two weeks.

“The other thing is, some people would rather have the payout,” Meyer said.

Ganim appointed friend Armando “A.J.” Perez police chief in March, 2016. Perez earned $5,091 for unused days off.

“It was just too crazy” to take time off, Perez said. “But it’s just the nature of the beast. I’m a hands on guy. I want to know what’s going on.”

Bridgeport’s policy of issuing annual vacation payments differs from that of Hartford and New Haven and from state government. Public employees for those three entities can bank vacation days during the course of their careers and eventually cash out.

“There are no provisions for vacation buyback in a given year,” said Laurence Grotheer, spokesman for New Haven Mayor Toni Harp. “In some bargaining units an employee who retires or resigns in good standing can get a vacation payout up to a certain point.”

State union contracts cap vacation accrual at 60 days, after which members have to use it or lose it.

David Lewis is president and founder of Norwalk-based OperationsInc, billed as “one of the Northeast’s largest Human Resources Outsourcing and Consulting firms, specializing in support for businesses small and large.”

Lewis said while some states require vacation payouts, in Connecticut “the overwhelming majority of employers have a use it or lose it policy” with some variations.

“The idea of use it or lose it is to come up with the right balance between work/life and number of days a business can do without an employee during the course of the year,” Lewis said.

Lewis said public employees and other unionized jobs typically receive vacation payouts as part of their contracts. In those cases, Lewis said, Bridgeport’s policy of tackling that expense annually rather than putting it off is preferred.

For example, Lewis said, local governments that offer early retirement incentives to help thin out the ranks and balance the budget have to then absorb those hefty accrued lump sum vacation payouts at a fiscally challenging time. The Hartford Courant, for example, recently reported that since 2010 that city has paid out over $16 million for employees’ unused sick and vacation time.

“If you’re going to adopt a policy that involves paying out, that should occur, in my opinion, in the first quarter” following the year staffers would have taken the unused vacation, Lewis said.

Ganim could, as mayor, try to bargain away paid vacation time from Bridgeport’s municipal unions. But the mayor indicated he is fine giving personnel the option to forgo time off.

White added that having too many people on vacation simultaneously could inflate the overtime budget.

“I’d rather get the productivity,” the mayor said. “You could argue there’s a ‘quality of life (issue)’ but that’s a choice they get to make.”