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Chicago teachers can save 244 unused sick days, retire early under new contract

The tentative agreement raises the cap on accrued sick days from 40 to 244; some longtime teachers could use those days to retire a year early and still collect their full pension.

Striking Chicago school teachers march after a rally in September 2012 in Chicago.
Under their tentative contract, Chicago Teachers Union members will be able to save up a lot more of their unused sick time — 244 days. Some longtime teachers could then use their banked days to retire up to a year early and still collect their full pension.
Associated Press

Under their new contract, Chicago Teachers Union members would be able to accrue more than six times as many unused sick days as before.

The tentative agreement reached Thursday between the city, Chicago Public Schools and the CTU allows union members to bank 244 sick days, up from 40.

That’s more than enough days to cover an entire school year — an increase that could allow a longtime employee to retire a year early and still receive their full pension.

The 40-day cap was the result of 2012 contract negotiations following scrutiny of a policy that allowed employees to cash out up to 325 sick days at retirement, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in payout to employees when they retired.

After a Better Government Association report on the practice was published in the Sun-Times in 2012, the Board of Education cracked down. A 30-day payout cap was put in place for non-union employees; that included longtime principals and other administrators, such as former CPS CEO Arne Duncan.

Then, through CTU contract negotiations later that year, a 40-day cap on sick-day accruals was put in place for union employees with under 40 days saved, but employees with more than 40 days accrued didn’t have any taken away. Employees could no longer cash out unused sick leave, but were allowed to use up to 40 days toward their pension service credit.

In negotiations with the city this year, the union fought to raise the cap. Union documents tracking negotiations, obtained by the Sun-Times, show that as early as Oct. 25, the city was open to raising the number of sick days that could be banked to 244.

Under the new contact, employees can use those accrued sick days as regular sick days, or as paid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, or to supplement short-term disability leave, as they had been allowed to do under the previous cap.

Days accrued under the higher cap still can’t be used for cash payouts at retirement, but can still be used toward their pension service credits.

If a union employee used no sick days, it would take more than 20 years to reach the sick-day cap — though past the 17-year mark, they’d already have enough days saved up to retire a year early, with their full pension.

Teachers can retire at age 55 with 35 years of service, age 60 with 20 years of service or age 62 with five years of service to receive their full pension benefit, according to CPS.

Gifting sick days to another employee

CPS employees can also share days from their sick-day bank with other employees, which continues without change from the last contract. An employee can gift up to 10 days to another employee, who can receive as many as 45 days from other employees. The gifts can be given to another employee who is suffering from a serious medical condition or on another approved leave of absence. An employee can receive a donation only once during their employment.