Why are we even bargaining sick days? It should be the law.

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For some reason the change to the Chicago Public School/Chicago Teacher Union contract regarding sick days has popped up as something controversial.

The contract that came out of a two week strike by CTU members resulted in a significant increase in the number of sick days that could be banked and applied as pensionable credit.

Then CPS lied by a factor of six about how many sick days teachers were using and the media ran with the bogus numbers.

Then the Tribune’s liberal columnist, Eric Zorn, declared the practice of applying unused sick days as pensionable credit was not what he considered an actual benefit and so, wasn’t fair.

It is difficult to argue with what Eric Zorn thinks because it rarely makes a lot of sense. I was just going to ignore it.

But it started me thinking about sick days.

Many non-union and low-paid workers in the U.S. don’t get any sick days. By making a thing about teacher sick days, the Sun-Times, people like Zorn and his right-wing counter part in the Illinois Policy Institute are pushing a politics of resentment.

Just like what they do with public employee pensions.

They want folks mad at those fellow workers who get a little more, hoping it will distract us from the .01%.

My question is why are we even bargaining sick days or parental leave? Like national health care, we should remove it from work place negotiations and make it government policy.

It should be the law. Like it is in the rest of the industrialized world.

From Fast Company:

The U.S. isn’t very competitive with other countries when it comes to taking care of its workers, according to a new report from Glassdoor.

Conducted in cooperation with London-based Llewellyn Consulting, the report, “Which Countries in Europe Offer Fairest Paid Leave and Unemployment Benefits?” shows a sharp divide between American workplace benefits and those offered in 14 European countries.

“In the U.S., workplace benefits like unemployment, maternity/paternity leave, and paid time off are part of the total compensation pie negotiated between employer and employee,” said Glassdoor’s chief economist Andrew Chamberlain in a statement. “In most cases, the responsibility to provide these necessary social benefits to workers falls to U.S. employers rather than the government.” This is in contrast to social policy across Europe, Chamberlain observed, which generally results in far more generous benefits than what is typical in the U.S.

With unemployment at historic lows, the general sentiment among workers is that they can find another, better job elsewhere, particularly among millennials, 44% of whom Deloitte found would leave their employers in the next two years. Benefits could make the difference between a talented employee staying or leaving to find a better package elsewhere.

A separate Glassdoor survey found that 79% of U.S. employees report they would prefer new or additional benefits instead of a pay raise, and more than half (57%) of people said benefits such as health insurance, paid vacation, paid sick days, and a retirement plan–some of which are mandated in European countries–are among their top considerations before accepting a job.

Using the United States as a benchmark, this study compared of benefits in six key areas:

  1. Paid maternity leave
  2. Paid paternity leave
  3. General parental leave
  4. Paid holiday allowances
  5. Paid sick leave
  6. Unemployment benefits

Data from the OCED Family Database of all parental leave policies was analyzed for 14 countries including Denmark, France, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Norway, Austria, Belgium, Germany, the U.K., Switzerland, Ireland, and the U.S.

It’s important to note that Glassdoor analyzed the U.S.’s parental leave policy as stipulated under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which also allows unpaid leave for reasons other than childbirth, such as caring for sick children, spouses, or elderly parents. This was reclassified as “general parental leave” rather than “maternity leave” or “paternity leave.”

There are differences from country to country based on government regulatory mandates, but those that ranked as the most generous are Denmark, France, and Spain, while the U.K., Switzerland, and Ireland are among the least generous. The U.S. brings up the rear in nine of the 12 areas ranked as well as an overall aggregate score of .03 for its benefits (or lack thereof). For comparison, Denmark scored a 7.8 and France came in second with a 7.2.

Paid parental leave is now a hot-button issue as businesses of all sizes are scrambling to offer what the U.S. government doesn’t. Under the FMLA, new parents (birth mothers, birth fathers, and new adoptive parents) are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave. Working mothers in the U.S. may take short-term disability benefits offered at the state level, such as in California and New Jersey.

Highlights from Glassdoor’s report:


  • Maternity leave in all E.U. countries has to amount to a minimum of 14 weeks, but the time and pay offered in each country differs considerably.
  • The U.K. offers the longest time at 52 weeks (1 year), 39 of which are paid at 90% of previous earnings for the first six weeks and the remainder at up to £140 a week. The U.K. is followed by Ireland at 42 weeks, 26 of which are paid at a flat rate of €188 per week.
  • Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Austria, and Denmark all offer at or near the statutory 14 weeks at full pay.

Being a responsible corporate citizen is more than just good business practice—it helps make society stronger. Here’s how companies are infusing their power with purpose.



  • The U.S. has no mandated paternity leave. However, similar to U.S. maternity leave policies, many companies offer paid paternity leave to new fathers to help attract and retain talent.
  • Paternity leave is still unregulated by the E.U., and entitlements vary dramatically. Austria, Germany, Ireland, and Switzerland offer no mandated paternity leave.
  • New fathers in Finland get the most leave by far with 45 working days off (nine weeks), while Spain and France are the next most generous.


In the E.U., general parental leave is different from maternity and paternity leave that new birth parents receive, and it is regulated. E.U. legislation states that parents have the right to take time off work to care for children up to 8 years old for a minimum of four months (16 weeks). The amount of time workers can take parental leave, and the pay offered during that time, varies by country.

  • Each country sets pay during parental leave. France and Germany offer by far the most time off (three years), although not all of it is paid.
  • Most countries offer less time than France and Germany, but with all of it paid. Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are the most generous in this regard.
  • In Ireland, Spain (a full year), and the U.K., all leave is unpaid and Switzerland (not a member of the E.U.) offers no leave at all.
  • The parental leave regulation in the U.S. is second to last when compared with these European countries.


  • There is no statutory annual leave entitlement in the U.S. The number of days offered is left as part of the compensation package negotiated between the employer and employee. The average number of paid vacation days for U.S. workers is 10 days, according to a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
  • Paid holiday entitlement in the E.U. is set at a minimum of four weeks (20 days) per year, exclusive of bank holidays; however, a number of countries are more generous.
  • Sweden, France, and Denmark offer the most, at five weeks (25 days) for a standard Monday to Friday job.
  • The number of paid public holidays is highest in Spain (14), Austria (13), and Italy (12), and lowest in Switzerland (4), the U.K. (8), and the Netherlands (8).
  • In the U.S., a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found the average number of paid public holidays workers are entitled to is six days.



  • The U.S. has no statutory mandate for paid sick leave, and the number of days offered is part of the compensation package negotiated between the employer and employee.
  • Sick leave and pay are most generous in the Netherlands, where workers can be absent for up to 104 weeks (2 years), while receiving 70% of their salary.
  • They are least generous in the U.K. (28 weeks, paid at a flat rate of around £88 a week); France (26 weeks, paid at 50% of earnings); and Ireland (dependent on the specifics of a worker’s employment contract).



Like most areas of social policy, unemployment benefit systems across countries vary widely, making it challenging to compare countries. The amount paid and the time period covered can depend on factors such as how long someone has been working, whether he or she has dependents, and even on age.

  • The U.S. offers between 40% and 50% of earnings for up to 26 weeks, depending on the individual state.
  • Unemployment benefits (taking both benefits and the eligibility period into account) are greatest in Denmark (90% of previous earnings, for up to 104 weeks) and Belgium (65% of their prior earnings for the first 13 weeks)
  • They are least generous in the U.K., Ireland, and the U.S.

“Providing benefits and other workplace entitlements is a complex responsibility for governments and businesses,” Glassdoor’s Chamberlain says. “Striking the right balance is never easy.”


Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

4 thoughts on “Why are we even bargaining sick days? It should be the law.

  1. The US is way behind in caring for its workers.

    I was having difficulty hearing but returned to Kuala Lumpur at the beginning of the 2006-07 school year, hoping to continue my teaching job at the International School of Kuala Lumpur. Before school started I saw a doctor at the Wijaya International Medical Center which had cyberknife…a treatment for my brain tumors. I couldn’t get the needed MRI and CT scan until the school put up a guarantee for $40,000 that the school would pay if the insurance company didn’t. ISKL had just gotten a new superintendent and he signed the guarantee with absolutely no hesitation.

    The school paid me my full salary for 6 months and then I received a check each month from their insurance company for two and a half years… the age at which I turned 65. The full amount of the money was $36,000 each year.

    How many billions do large corporations make and not offer the same or better benefits than a private school in a foreign country?

  2. Fred I agree sick days should be mandatory & not bargained for.As a retiree city worker in LIUNA local 1001 we never had & still don’t have sick days even though I worked outside year round.I asked the sponsor of the city’s ordinance that instituted mandatory sick time for any businesses in Chicago,Ald.Pawar @a40th Ward Alliance gubenitorial forum organized by Dianne Daleiden .Pawar’s response was “talk to your collective bargaining unit”

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. When people complain about teachers getting pensions and sick days, I suggest that they direct their ire at the folks who have been complicit in letting vulture capitalists strip pensions, and who refuse to pass legislation ensuring what a healthy society needs – paid family/medical leave, portable pensions
    (NOT 401ks), sick days, banking sick days, mandated vacation time. Humans are not widgets; they need down time to recharge themselves.

  4. The issue is not whether sick days should be provided (they should); the issue is whether unused sick days should become pensionable. I always had employment where a certain number of annual sick days was a benefit as was a short-term disability plan that, for an extended illness with physician certification, kicked in after the sick days had been used, as well as an optional, employee-paid-premium, long-term disability plan. Everyone I know would agree that such a combination of coverages should be standard. However, these coverages are intended as a protection in the event of illness, not that if a person is so fortunate as to not get sick, the sick days become pensionable. If I have maternity-leave coverage but never get pregnant, should my unused maternity leave become pensionable? And if so, if I don’t get pregnant one, two, three or four times, do I get one, two, three or four maternity leaves added to my pension calculation because if I had had one, two, three or four babies, I would have gotten one, two, three or four paid maternity leaves? Protecting workers against loss of income due to illness or maternity is appropriate; adding unused benefits to pension calculations is outrageous. And if the response to sick days not being pensionable is to take all the sick days whether or not one is sick, that behavior subverts the very idea of sick day coverage and is totally unprofessional.

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