City government workers cost San Francisco $160 million last year in paid sick and injured leave time — the equivalent of losing 1,800 full-time employees, according to a report.
Although The City has seen an overall reduction in lost work hours compared with recent years, San Francisco “continues to experience high costs for lost work hours” when it comes to employees using sick leave, disability leave and workers’ compensation, according to a report issued by Budget Analyst Harvey Rose.
Additionally, several departments saw an increase in costs related to sick and disability leave, the report noted. At San Francisco International Airport, there was a 9 percent increase in lost work hours and the fire and police departments had similar increases of nearly 3 percent each.
Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council, said the report shows that people are taking the necessary time off to recover and heal, which, he said, results in higher productivity when on the job.
In April 2006, Mayor Gavin Newsom announced a new initiative called “Shape Up at Work,” but the report found this to be “largely unfunded, and only 22 departments reported having implemented the mayor’s April 2006 directive to incorporate employee health promotion strategies into their mission statements.”
The City’s programs that are supposed to promote employee health mostly fail to collect and analyze data, track participation and record outcomes, the report says. City Controller Ed Harrington said that The City is “probably not doing as much as we could. We dohave a variety of pilots we’ve tried. We keep trying.”
Newsom’s budget director, Nani Coloretti, said that the report “shows some positive trends,” noting that a reduction in paid leave during the last two years saved The City $24 million. She said Newsom recognizes that “employee wellness is critical to an effective city operation,” and his “Shape Up” initiative is helping.
“We believe we will continue to see improvement in leave usage,” she said. Coloretti noted that city workers walked nearly 87,000 miles last year as part of the initiative’s 10-week walking challenge, and city employee participation had doubled.
The report said that city departments reduced lost work hours due to these kinds of paid time by 6.7 percent between fiscal year 2004-05 and fiscal year 2006-07.
Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who requested the report, said his focus is to bring down retiree health costs, which are estimated at $4 billion during the next 30 years. Elsbernd said the report is just a start to figure out how to have a healthier work force.
Fire chief denies age contributes to paid time off
San Francisco’s firefighters are older than those in other cities, and that contributes to the amount of paid leave time being used, a new city report suggests, with $23 million in sick pay and $39 million in workers’ compensation paid between 2004 and 2006.
A budget analyst report said that 44 percent of uniformed San Francisco Fire Department employees are more than 50 years old, compared with a national average of 19.5 percent — increasing the likelihood of age-related illnesses and injuries such as arthritis and a decrease in flexibility.
Fire Department employees reported 1,205 serious work-related injuries or illnesses — of which 63 percent were due to strain, sprain or muscular pain, and 5 percent were due to reported cardiac conditions or strokes — during 2004-06. Also, 38 percent of citywide claims associated with cardiovascular disease were filed by uniformed Fire Department employees.
Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White told The Examiner she is “not behind that assumption” that an employee’s age directly relates to the usage of leave time. She suggested that older firefighters may have a stronger work ethic than younger ones and take fewer sick days. Older firefighters also bring beneficial experience in handling tough firefighting situations, Hayes-White said. She added that the age of the department’s personnel “to a certain extent … is what it is. You can’t discriminate based on age.”
To help improve the health of its staff members, the department has recently accepted a $1.2 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a health and wellness fire department program that would pay for such things as improved cardio equipment for 45 fire stations and an exercise physiologist. As it is a matching grant, the department will be required to contribute $300,000 to the program.