SALEM — Mayor Kim Driscoll appears to have made another dent in sick leave buybacks, a high-cost and often unpredictable budget item, in a three-year contract agreement announced last week with the Salem Firefighters Union.
After focusing on health insurance in the last round of municipal contracts, Driscoll has taken aim at sick pay in the latest talks.
Salem has paid out more than $700,000 this fiscal year to retiring city workers for sick days they never used, a benefit put in contracts years ago, when city salaries were lower, which has come back to haunt municipal budgets.
The contract with the city’s 85 firefighters, which provides a cumulative 6 percent raise over three years, places limits on the amount of sick leave benefits that new firefighters can collect. In addition, language was added allowing current firefighters to tap into those funds before retirement, but at a lower rate.
“This will provide substantial savings and enable us to reduce those very expensive costs,” Driscoll said.
“We think it’s a fair deal for our members and the city with the economic climate out there,” said Richard Thomas, president of the Salem Firefighters Union.
This is the first pact signed with any of the city’s eight municipal unions, most of which have been working without a new contract for more than a year. It likely reflected a tone, if not specific goals, that the mayor will try to reach with other unions.
Thomas called the sick leave buyback agreement a “good compromise.”
Under the pact, new firefighters will not get sick leave buyback at retirement. However, new hires who use less than half of their annual sick time can get paid for up to two days each year, but at a “capped rate,” allowing the city to make smaller annual payments and to avoid a big payout upon retirement.