Attendance bonuses are not the answer! We need a systems overhaul!

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Last Fall, Steve Bell, the district’s Chief Operating Officer, pushed hard for hiring bonuses and retention bonuses, which JESPA ultimately agreed to on a temporary basis as long as they applied to all positions with more than 10% vacancy due to high turnover.

The JESPA bargaining team believed (based on research) that new employees would come to the district and then leave once they got their immediate new hire bonus.  And that’s exactly what happened.  By all accounts, JESPA was right AGAIN.

Recently Greg Jackson, Executive Director of Transportation, with support from Steve Bell, proposed attendance bonuses, which the JESPA Executive Board rejected for several reasons.

  1. The district has a large budget surplus in certain areas due to understaffing, which JESPA believes should put directly into employees’ pockets without making them jump through hoops. If the district has enough to budget an additional $50 per week per employee, why not just add that our wages? For the average 7hr employee that would be $1.43 per hour and would be PERA-includible.
  2. Attendance bonuses will not cure the district’s inability to fill vacant positions, particularly when it continually advertises vacancies at the wrong rate of pay. When JESPA researched the district’s inability to hire for certain positions, we discovered several positions which had not been updated to reflect the $2 increase JESPA negotiated in the last round of bargaining.  Food service hourly jobs were still advertised at $12.49 per hour (the rate in 2020-21) instead of today’s minimum of $17 per hour.
  3. The district is not posting permanent jobs in understaffed positions. Right now, the district has NO permanent bus assistant job posted, just substitutes. Last spring, we learned the district was hiring only sub bus drivers. Anyone looking for permanent work would bypass this immediately, regardless of attendance bonuses.
  4. Research shows that bonuses don’t work – pay increases do.  If the district wants employee commitment and wants to show appreciation, there are better ways to do it.
  5. Research shows that bonuses can increase absenteeism. By incentivizing attendance at work, which is already a social norm, attendance bonuses make missing work seem acceptable – you’re just forgoing an extra incentive.
  6. The district should try to understand the root cause of absenteeism and understaffing BEFORE implementing a bonus. For instance, is short staffing related to employees no feeling valued at work? Is it related to monthly prorated paychecks?  Are the job postings up to date? Do people have transportation to work? Know the cause of the issue before trying to solve it.
  7. The bonus would be discriminatory against people with disabilities, who are pregnant, or are sick or taking care of a sick family member and on protected family medical leave.
  8. We shouldn’t be incentivizing employees to come to work sick right after a global pandemic.  This is shameful.
  9. The idea is unsound from a legal and contract perspective.

If the district acts alone to implement its attendance bonus scheme, we believe it would violate the collective bargaining agreement, which requires the district to negotiate issues surrounding wages with JESPA. Attendance bonuses must also be included in the regular rate of pay for the calculation of overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

What’s more, JESPA bargaining unit members—like workers across Colorado—have a right to use paid sick leave in accordance with state law.  When employers discourage workers from exercising their lawful right to use sick leave by withholding attendance bonuses, we believe they violate the purpose of the law, which is to afford the security of paid sick leave without the threat of penalties

Encouraging sick employees to report to work so they don’t lose their attendance bonus is a reckless move that puts us all at risk. 

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