Efforts to align sick and vacation leave policies among three Galveston entities have been mired by attempts to create competitive benefits while maintaining fiscal responsibility.
Human Resources departments at the city of Galveston, the Port of Galveston and the Park Board of Trustees have met throughout 2017 to streamline their policies, including vacation and sick leave benefits.
Only the park board, which governs the tourism branch of the city, has approved its new policies. The city and port are still working to satisfy concerns of city council members and members of the Wharves Board of Trustees, which governs the port.
“From my perspective, the park board and the wharves board are a utility of the city,” said Mayor Jim Yarbrough, who also serves as a trustee on the wharves board. “All policies ought to be in sync. We all work for the same public; we all get paid by the same public dollar.”
The streamlining of the vacation and sick leave policies come as part of a larger effort to synchronize policies across all three entities, Yarbrough said.
“I’m practical enough to know you can’t get where you want to be all in one jump,” Yarbrough said. “The park board and the city have all the same HR policies except for this one on sick and vacation. That’s progress.”
Meanwhile, the groups are trying to make the policies competitive with other institutions in the city, such as Texas A&M University at Galveston and the University of Texas Medical Branch, city officials have said.
Possibly the biggest qualm in approving new vacation and sick day policies has been the question of vacation “carry-over” and payouts if an employee leaves the entity.
The city of Galveston, for example, can pay out a maximum of 320 hours of vacation leave for an employee who has worked with the city for 20 or more years, if the employee has not used the hours and carried them over year to year, Galveston Human Resources Director Kent Etienne said.
City employees can also accumulate 96 hours in sick leave per year and hold 960 hours in the bank, with carry-over, documents show. If the employee leaves the city, he could be paid out a maximum of 720 hours of sick leave, according to the documents.
That particular policy is cause for concern, some city council members have argued.
“I think the accumulation of sick leave and vacation time is on the heavy side,” City Councilman Mike Doherty, of District 4, said. “It ends up costing us a lot. Right now, I’m inclined to say that it’s a little excessive and needs to be trimmed.”
The city hasn’t recommended any changes to the carry-over policies, but Etienne said if the city does change them, it will try to implement a better program for people who need to take emergency leave.
“Our sick leave policy is I think a little more generous,” Etienne said. “In fact, if you consider the amount of days, it’s an insurance policy so to speak. People really try to bolster up those balances so they can, if a significant event occurs, they can take off their time with full pay.”
The park board is the only group that has come to an agreement on its policies, although Yarbrough said the board’s policies might need to be adjusted again if they differ from what the port and city finally adopt.
The park board’s new policies allow employees to accumulate vacation days in shorter periods of time, and employees can carry over their annual accrual in larger amounts, Park Board Human Resources Manager Kimberly Danesi said.
The park board is the only entity of the three that doesn’t pay out sick days upon severance. A total of 96 sick hours could be taken a year, with a maximum of 160 hours to take if employees carry over sick days from year to year, documents show.
Danesi argued that the three entities will never likely match up their policies entirely.
“Our goal is not to align perfectly, and given the distinct operations of each entity, doing so doesn’t make sense,” Danesi said.
The port’s proposal would lower the number of sick leave hours that an employee can accrue per year, and would lower the maximum carry-over for employees’ vacation leave, according to port documents.
The three entities aren’t there just yet, interim Port Director Peter Simons said.
“It’s been a challenge to mirror each policy but I think we’re making at least a good effort,” Simons said.