Days like "Black Friday" cost schoolboards like the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board a lot of money as staff choose to call in sick and take personal days.

Windsor-Essex school board, union at odds over absenteeism

  • January 27, 2012

Black Friday costs the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board big money. On the day in November when U.S. shopping malls offer crazy bargains the board had 133 of its employees off work — 48 claimed a personal day; the rest called in sick.

Teachers, janitors, secretaries call in sick in unusual numbers on Mondays, Fridays, before a long weekend, before March break and around American Thanksgiving, according to Jamie Bumbacco, the Windsor-Essex board’s executive superintendent of human resources.

Bumbacco was asked to report to the board on absenteeism when a trustee noticed 54 of the board’s 280 education assistants were all sick on one Friday in October.

“When you run out of occasional EAs it begged the question,” said Bumbacco.

Bumbacco crunched the numbers on 10,600 working days covering a period just over the last two years. He found that on average board employees take 11 sick days a year.

The provincial education funding formula allows for nine days per employee. The Catholic board in Windsor has an accumulated deficit of $2.4 million and absenteeism isn’t helping, said Bumbacco.

Absenteeism at the board isn’t evenly distributed among its 2,500 employees. Non-union administration averaged 4.07 days away per year.

At the other end, janitors represented by the Canadian Auto Workers were away an average of 15.53 days in 2010-2011.

Among teaching staff, high school teachers were gone 8.98 days last year, as opposed to 11.08 days off for elementary school teachers.

“There’s more than a financial cost to this. There’s the learning cost, the continuity,” said Bumbacco.

So far Bumbacco doesn’t know how his board compares with others across the province.

“I would think it’s fairly consistent across the province,” he told The Catholic Register.

The Ministry of Education does not collect provincial data on employee absences.

The latest Statistics Canada report on absenteeism — “Work Absences in 2010” from the May 2011 online edition of “Perspectives on Labour and Income” — shows Canada’s full-time workers lost an average of 9.1 days in 2010 for personal reasons. That’s down slightly from 2009, but there’s an overall rising trend over the last decade.

Out of 9.1 days absent, the average Canadian was sick 7.4 days and away with personal or family issues 1.7 days.

Union members are away more often than non-union workers and women more often than men. The average union member missed 12.9 work days, compared with 7.3 days for non-union workers. Women are away an average of 11 days in 2010 compared with 7.6 days for men.

The kind of work also matters. Health care and social assistance employees missed an average of 13.4 days while professional, scientific and technical services averaged just 5.4 days away.

Brian Hogan questions the accuracy of Bumbacco’s report and the politics behind a trustee debate over the issue just before the board starts negotiating with its unions this spring.

“We’re not sure whether the data is totally accurate,” said the local president of the Windsor-Essex Secondary branch of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.

Union and board representatives meet every couple of weeks through the school year and this is the first time the board has raised the issue, Hogan said.

“We don’t understand over the last three-and-a-half years of this contract why they didn’t say, ‘We think we have an issue, let’s discuss it,’ ” said Hogan.

Hammering employees in public and then discussing the issue is a backwards approach to labour relations, Hogan said.

“When it’s something negative, you might want to see whether the facts are straight before hand,” he said.

“I’m very confident the report is accurate,” said Bumbacco. “We stand behind it. We stand behind how we’ve added it up.”

Bumbacco claims even modest attempts to control absenteeism, such as requiring doctor’s notes, meet with stiff union resistance.

“We’ve got grievances saying that’s harrassment, that’s intimidation,” he said.

“It smacks of a cheap shot on the eve of bargaining,” said Hogan.

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