County workers get excessive sick time, councilman contends

First Posted: 1:28 am - June 26th, 2015

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First Posted: 3/19/2013

New Luzerne County workers are entitled to at least 32 days off in their first year of employment with paid holidays, vacation and sick time, said county Councilman Stephen J. Urban.

Employees receive 15 to 18 sick days annually, except newer hires in some unions that are capped at 10 or 12, Urban pointed out during Tuesday’s council meeting. “Are we saying we have a very sickly workforce?” Urban said, noting he believes five sick days would be more appropriate.

Urban’s observations were made during a discussion on workforce standards that council members want injected into future union contracts. Council’s strategic initiatives committee will formulate recommended targets for council approval.

The administration will then use those goals as a guide for benefits negotiated in future contracts with its 10 unions, including six collective bargaining agreements that expire the end of this year. Benefits for non-union employees can be changed without negotiation.

Councilman Stephen A. Urban said he wants to explore requiring employees to pay more toward health care.

A 40-hour work week also has been proposed, but Urban said council must ensure the change will result in more efficiencies if employees are paid more to increase hours. Probation officers received pay raises to work more hours several years ago, and court officials still ended up adding more probation employees, he said.

County employees work 32.5 to 40 hours per week, depending on the department.

Councilman Rick Williams said he wants more “uniformity, simplicity and equity” of benefits. He proposed requiring employees to shoulder the additional cost if they want health benefits for family members and providing workers with a standard allotment of paid days off instead of categorizing them into separate sick, vacation and personal categories.

Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck said uniformity and standardizing contracts is a “very good idea,” though she said county officials must recognize “each job is different.”

The expiring union contracts were approved by prior administrations and negotiated as packages, and some of the benefits might have been provided in exchange for giving up something else, she said. “We have to consider context while working toward uniformity,” she said.

Councilman Eugene Kelleher said he wants to move toward “common hours” and benefit changes that will offset the county’s rising health care costs. Council can invite unions to explain why certain benefits are in their contracts, he said.

Councilwoman Elaine Maddon Curry said council must look at “some of the excesses” in contracts, though she stressed some employees are not highly compensated.

Councilman Edward Brominski said employee health care contributions must increase as they have for taxpayers, though he believes the percentages should be based on salary ranges. Employees in higher pay brackets should pay more, he said.

Employees currently pay flat monthly contributions or 10 percent toward insurance.

Council also agreed to hold a special meeting April 2 to discuss the confirmation of a budget/finance division head who will be recommended by county Manager Robert Lawton. Lawton said he might also present other proposed division head hires for council confirmation.

A majority of council also voted to remove a sign in the council meeting room recently presented by Kingston resident Brian Shiner. The sign thanked the companies involved in publicly broadcasting council meetings at no cost to taxpayers. Several council members said they appreciate the gesture and broadcasts but don’t want to open the door to other requests to post signs in the room.

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