Some startling facts about CTA union absenteeism

Here are some amazing take-home facts from the Tuesday's well-reported Tribune story about how absenteeism by CTA drivers and motormen creates the biggest commuting headaches on Mondays, Fridays and the hours leading up to the rush hour period (some of these facts are verbatim copies from the Trib story):

  • Absenteeism will cost the CTA $40 million this year to pay fill-in workers.
  • Chronically absent employees can face dismissal only after seven occurrences in a calendar year.
  • Being absent without leave for multiple days counts as a single occurrence.
  • The average front-line worker will be off the job almost four weeks (19 days) due to unscheduled missed work. When was the last time you took 19 sick days in a year and got away with it?

Given the above, here are the really startling facts to me:

  • Under the current union agreement, no pay is given for the first two days off sick.
  • Workers who call in sick five days in a row are paid for three of the five days (the first two still are not paid).
  • Employees earn a maximum of $200 per week for up to 26 weeks under short-term disability.

So that means there's a financial disincentive to take off so much work. And yet, CTA union employees still do it.

And one final Tribune factoid about CTA union absenteeism:

  • About one-third of the workforce assigned to the North Park garage has been approved for Family and Medical Leave Act status, according to CTA records. North Park, 3112 W. Foster Ave., has the highest canceled-run rate among CTA garages.

How many of you work at a place where 3 out of every 10 employees have been granted FMLA leave?

I'd love to hear from any drivers or motormen to try to explain this, because I think it's pretty outrageous and highly uncommon in a normal business.

Chicago Tribune photo

(Chicago Tribune photo)


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  • FMLA is definitely an issue in the transit industry, its hard to argue it, especially if the employee has kids. People definitely abuse it.

  • "Workers who call in sick five days in a row are paid for three of the five days (the first two still are not paid)."

    Rather than being a disincentive to take a lot of time off, this is actually an incentive to take more time off. Because, unreported by the Trib and unmentioned by Tattler, union employees can get that first day back (get paid) when they are off for seven days. So, off for 5 days - get paid for 3. But be off for 7 days - and you are paid for 6. There is another milestone to hit to get the first day back - I think it is 14 days, but I'm sure some other poster here could confirm or correct that.

    I understand this pay structure was originally designed so as not to penalize employees who had legitimate serious short-term injuries or illnesses. However, as the years have gone by, union employees learned to use this to game the system.

  • The short term disability plan is probably less of a benefit than in private industry, in that it is typical for private companies to offer insurance for one's pay for up to 26 weeks. I don't know if that trend was affected by the recession. Of course, the issue probably is that CTA is self-insured.

    Based on the list of reasons on the DOL site, are that many drivers either having babies or adopting them? Family members being sick may be a big reason, but since leave is unpaid, one who is personally sick would be on disability.

    I would concur with you that there are financial disincentives for taking off, including not getting full pay. Also, this doesn't seem like anything like other public employees, who are allowed to carry over sick pay, etc. Thus, those taking 19 days off a year already are suffering a big financial penalty.

    19 day average seems high, but, then, again, most of us aren't dealing with 120 sneezing people on a bus, not to mention what diseases other subjects of the Tattler are spreading.

    Based on these numbers, I think Claypool is just seizing on a scapegoat here, sort of like Kruesi and Brown saying that CTA's problem was then caused by paratransit. As I said yesterday, there are supposedly $237 million of other problems, and I am sure many of them are named Quinn.

  • A couple of notes:
    - CTA union employees who take 19 days off are paid full pay for at least 14 of those days. They don't go on the $200 a week pay right away.
    - CTA employees are required to file for FMLA for any sick time off of more than two days (even if it is retroactive). So even though FMLA itself does not provide pay, they are getting paid full-time wages for 14 days, and then disability pay.
    - Some employees file for FMLA just to guarantee that they can take time off for their (or family members) recurring medical appointments. They may not miss more than two hours of work a week, or may just require scheduling accommodations, but they are on FMLA to ensure they can take the time.

  • In reply to Anonymous:

    Your first two points indicate that it may be more costly than first appears, but your third indicates that it may be less.

    Nonetheless, I still think Gump is bringing this up to mask other deeper problems, such as the report that the state is about $240 million behind in reimbursements, and that CTA has borrowed itself into the hole (RTA, too). Thus, I stand behind my original assertion about the name of the bulk of the problem.

  • I think the Trib has been on an anti-union rant of late. Sure, illegal pension deals should be highlighted, but is it any surprise that Rahm's CTA appointed head is bashing unions to the Trib's reporters? I'm a union telco repairman for Illinois Bell. I had to work 5 years to get my 1st sick day paid, but my contract provides good benefits. Negotiated benefits. You can't work, in my case, 25-30 years, lifting manhole covers or hauling a 80lb 28 foot ladder up and down an alley looking for trouble with out having back, shoulder or knee issues by the time you have some service with the company. Is it different for CTA workers. FMLA was created to solve the very problems you are discussing, child and caregiver issues. That's the Family part of FMLA and it is the law. If people are abusing it, catch them in it. But don't use the issue in the media to bash the union or unionized workers, which after all is what keeps the CTA from having employees who could not make it to the middle class. Is it possible that while a majority of readers can work at their desk with some ailment like migraines or a sinus infection or back issues that require narcotic pain-killers, but a worker driving a bus with 80 people or a train with 200 can't work the way you can sitting at a desk.

  • In reply to oconnorm:

    I don't think that you can pin this entirely on the Trib., since Gump has also made the rounds of TV news. Some of the stories even have file footage of fairly new buses.

  • So what is the solution? At contract time, negotiate standard sick leave policies - if you are going to work for the City or a sister Agency, the policy must be X, period. I can empathize with someone who says that their work is physically or intellectually challenging, but that's why it's called work, unless you are in a role that puts you in harms way by default, I don't think anyone is more special than anyone else. Stay healthy otherwise don't work for CTA - transit work wasn't designed to be a pork buffet, hopefully no employment started off that way.

    I'm not a labor lawyer or HR professional, but it seems that if a high percentage of workers are on FMLA because of their personal situation, then the Union should determine if they can put together a support program or something - the leadership isn't doing a good job of keeping ahead of muck that the Tribune rakes up.

    Forrest is a decent guy, a good public servant, yes he is a politician too, but he is bringing to the surface labor law abuse that has real impact on the riders. That much absenteeism would cost someone their job outside of the fantasyland that is CTA. You have to start fixing things somewhere, I expect CTA leadership to focus equally on other areas as Forrest's tenure goes on.

  • Thanks for your comment Fle. Makes a lot of sense.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Yeah, if you have no concept of labor relations, or think that Claypool has shown any sign of competence.

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    Do my job for one day....then u may make the comments your making,swollen knees,ankles, and back try driving for 5 hours,3to4 mins. to relive yourself and if you leave late your in don't know the half of about someone getting sick we are human not made of steel...Iron wears out,

  • In reply to bumpednbruise:

    You said a mouth full.

  • You can forget about his tenure at CTA, he'll be there long enough to get a pension. where as we have to do 25 to 30 yrs. Just like the rest.Just do the math it isn't hard count the presidents in the last five years. We don't get sick days, and one sick entry is a violation three is a one day suspension. and far as getting paid for sick book entries goes, you have to be off nine days to get paid for seven, tell the truth, CTA is not a fantasy land, but if the CTA would put the service back, stop over working the employees, where there was two buses now there is one doing the same job, we should be comended we deal with so many different kind of people on a day to day basis I for one extend my service which is not in our SOP's my passengers love to ride with me. I'm on the same street all day where as some employees work about four different streets and the customers never get to know their driver.

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