A Gift of Sick Days in Challenging Times of Need

January 1, 2011

As a peace officer at LaGuardia Community College, Ronald Coleman was known for the original tunes he hummed on patrol. His smile was well known, too, as was the depth of his commitment.

Years earlier, he had graduated from Medgar Evers College while raising two young daughters. So he understood – and encouraged – the diverse, nontraditional students he met while working the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift. But more than students knew of his generous spirit; in one snowstorm he saved the life of a fellow officer, pushing him out of the way of an oncoming truck. And, and on 9/11 – at the time a contract employee – he helped maintain order and calmed the people who had walked across the 59th Street Bridge to get to Queens.

Not surprisingly, when he was stricken with terminal cancer ten of his colleagues from LaGuardia Public Safety donated enough of their own annual leave and sick time to keep Coleman on the payroll for an extra 456 hours, or 57 days, until a short time before his death. And so the officer became one of the first beneficiaries of CUNY’s new, dedicated sick-leave program, implemented last April. The leave Mr. Coleman accrued from those donations also helped him keep his medical insurance, as well.

CUNY medical benefits can cover employees even when they are off the payroll, but the programs don’t last indefinitely. Combined with the uncertainty of life-and-death issues, it can cause families a great deal of stress.

“It made such a difference that my sister and I didn’t have to struggle to take care of his bills,” says his daughter, Lynette Coleman. The officer’s other daughter, Karen Coleman, is a college assistant at the CUNY Welcome Center in Manhattan and had been on leave, awaiting the birth of her first child. The three were close; Coleman’s wife died when their daughters were teenagers. Karen says she cherishes a memorial book with reminiscences of her father compiled at LaGuardia.

The process of donating hours to Ronald Coleman began with James Grantham, now the college’s director of Public Safety. “I was wondering if he had enough time. COBRA is expensive,” Grantham says, of the medical insurance plan that can be acquired when your employer-based policy ends.  Grantham went to the college’s Human Resources Department, where he met with Deputy Director Nila Bhaumik.  The program is modeled on one for New York City employees and the procedure is detailed.

“She coordinated it beautifully,” says Diane Darcy, LaGuardia’s executive director of Human Resources. “We do many good things in Human Resources, but this has to be one of the most rewarding.”

For the program to work, the leave must be donated by full-time employees to another specific full-time employee who is seriously ill or injured, has exhausted all other options and requests the donation. Annual leave donations are calculated at a rate of 100 percent; sick leave donations at 50 percent. Eligibility of donors and recipients is determined by Human Resources officials. Donations can be made across campuses and across titles. Those interested in this program can both read about it and access applications online.

Pamela Silverblatt, Vice Chancellor for Labor Relations, said “one of the most important accomplishments in the last round of collective bargaining was the University’s agreement to create a Dedicated Sick Leave program.” Vice Chancellor Silverblatt negotiates the collective bargaining agreements covering the majority of CUNY’s 37,000 instructional staff and classified staff employees.

For more please see: search.cuny.edu and enter”sickleave”.