Luzerne County Council members recently gave the administration a list of some items they don’t want granted in future union contracts.
Cash-outs for unused vacation and sick days when workers leave employment, allowances for clothing that can be worn outside work and excessive rollover of leftover days off from year to year are on council’s no-list.
Their wish list of additions to contracts: making smoking employees pay higher insurance costs associated with their habit and getting all employees to pay more toward health care in general.
Proponents of the workforce standards stressed changes involving the buyout and saving of unused time would apply to employees hired in the future — not existing workers.
Council’s Strategic Initiatives Committee has been developing the workforce standards for more than a year, and a council majority voted Dec. 17 to formally adopt them.
The administration can impose the changes immediately for non-union workers and will use the parameters as a guideline when negotiating new union contracts. County officials have warned it may take several rounds of union contracts to attain all standards.
Uniform work week
The list includes conversion to a 37.5-hour work week for county employees, which already had been approved by council.
Full-time county employees currently work anywhere from 32.5 to 40 hours a week depending on the position and department. Non-union workers will convert to 37.5 hours on Jan. 1, though they won’t be paid if they must work additional hours.
Councilman Jim Bobeck, a strategic initiatives committee member, said the standards will provide a helpful guide to the administration as it negotiates new contracts with six of the 10 unions.
Collective bargaining agreements expire Dec. 31 with county assistant district attorneys/public defenders, rank-and-file residual unit workers, prison employees and unionized staffers at Children and Youth, Aging and Mental Health and Developmental Services.
Employees currently pay flat rates or percentages toward health care. Most are at 10 percent. Newer court-related union members pay 12 percent or 15 percent, though all members of this union must start paying at least 12 percent on Jan. 1.
Some county officials have suggested aiming for at least 20-percent health care contributions.
The county budget projects nearly $200,000 will be spent buying back unused sick and vacation time next year. The rules governing buy-backs vary among union contracts and the personnel policy covering non-union workers.
Unused sick days
The most common provision allows departing workers to be paid for up to 60 unused sick days when they leave, though some unions allow the buyout of 70, 75 and 125 days. The amounts they receive per day range from $35 to $70 or are based on percentages of their current pay rates.
Most employees are permitted to carry unused vacation days into subsequent years, but the number varies from 20 to 55. Employees are then compensated for these unused days when they leave employment.
A few union contracts also allow workers to sell back leftover vacation and sick time once a year.
Five unions have clothing allowances, including sheriff deputies and prison guards who wear uniforms. Stipends for workers who wear street clothes include $1,050 per year for detectives and $500 annually for probation and domestic relations support officers.