There are bills to pay, but you can't face the day. What to do, what to do?You can call in sick and get paid for eight hours.You can drag yourself out of bed and work your eight hours. Or—if you work for the Cook County Highway Department—you can call in sick, drag yourself out of bed anyway, work eight hours and get paid for 20.
That's eight hours of sick time for the shift you didn't work and eight hours at time-and-a-half for the one you did. (For those who have lost count, we're still talking about eight hours of actual work.) No wonder County Board President Todd Stroger wants to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to keep county government running. A Sun-Times reporter who scoured time sheets from last January and February found numerous instances when workers claimed overtime on days they also took time off. Many of them elected to take "time off overtime," or TOOT, instead of cash, racking up weeks and weeks of time due to take during the summer months or roll over and cash out at retirement. Stroger's office is "looking into" the practice, and county Highway Supt. Rupert Graham Jr. has promised to review it. What's to review? Sick pay is supposed to compensate employees for shifts they miss because they're too ill to work. Overtime pay is meant to compensate them for hours worked in excess of a regular shift. On the days in question, neither of those things was true. It's a scam, courtesy of Cook County government. We understand that weather emergencies don't punch a time clock. They strike at will, and they're not over till they're over. That's why Cook County highway workers are on call 24/7, with few vacations allowed during the winter months, and why they often work double shifts for several days in a row while the rest of us are enjoying the holidays. The upside of all those hours is the overtime, and they deserve every penny they earn. But padding a time sheet is not the way to earn it.