Council is mulling move to address across-the-board inconsistencies in workers’ pay and benefits

Last updated: August 17. 2013 11:46PM - 4301 Views
By - jandes@timesleader.com

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Luzerne County officials are considering switching to a 37.5-hour work week, however, probation union head Charles Majikes questions what gains the county would accomplish.

The union’s roughly 81 probation officers and domestic relations support officers now work 35 hours.

Based on current pay scales, the additional half hour of work per day would cost the county $3,000 a year per employee, or a total of $243,000 annually, he said.

If council adopts the new work-hour standard, county Manager Robert Lawton told council he would reduce staff to completely offset the increased cost as part of a movement toward a higher-compensated, leaner workforce.

But Majikes said another round of layoffs will compromise his union workers’ ability to continue effectively monitoring caseloads. His union’s employees regularly work beyond 35 hours without seeking additional compensation, he said.

“We have lost about 41 officers since 2008 due to layoffs and people leaving, and the number will continue to rise as new vacancies are not filled,” Majikes said.

The union wouldn’t object to additional paid hours, but Majikes said he doesn’t believe productivity will increase significantly. “Where’s the rationale and analysis? To me, it’s political grandstanding. They’re trying to appease the public without input from the employees,” Majikes said.

Council’s strategic initiatives committee started looking at hours as part of an effort to address across-the-board inconsistencies in workers’ pay and benefits and to provide the administration with targets to negotiate into future union contracts as they expire.

While other proposed workforce standards were tabled for further review, the committee of council members presented the proposed switch to a 37.5-hour work week to the full council last week. Council is slated to discuss the matter and possibly vote later this month after solicitor review.

The 37.5 hours would not include lunch, and workers currently work anywhere from 32.5 to 40 hours depending on the position and department.

If the standard is approved, Lawton has authority to freely impose the new hours on most non-union workers, while the change must be negotiated with union employees. However, Lawton does not control non-union personnel decisions in court branches or the controller and district attorney offices.

Lawton faces a mix of work schedules for non-union workers. Most in the courthouse follow a schedule of 32.5 hours, but those at the prison must put in 35. Human service non-union workers have been at 37.5 hours for years.

The hours of the remaining 1,200 or so workers vary because the county has 10 collective bargaining agreements.

The court-related union’s bookkeepers and clerks are at 32.5 hours, but sheriff deputies in that same union are paid to work 35 hours.

Secretaries and other support staff in court branches must put in 35 hours.

The rank-and-file residual unit workers must clock 32.5 hours except for employees in road and bridge and 911, who work40 hours.

The union contract for assistant district attorneys/public defenders makes no mention of the required hours, other than a reference that part-timers must work at least 1,000 hours per year.

Union workers in the following departments are already at 37.5 hours: detectives, human service branches and the prison.

Paula Schnelly, who oversees three county American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, units in the county, said her members are open to increasing hours for additional pay, though she shares Majikes’ concern about the staff’s ability to sustain further staff cutbacks after several rounds of layoffs in recent years.

“We don’t see an increase in hours as a reason to need fewer employees,” Schnelly said.

One manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity, also expressed concerns that the shift will result in the loss of newer, lower-paid union workers to cover the expense of adding hours to workers with more seniority who might or might not make those additional hours worth the investment.

Lawton said conversion to a 37.5-hour workweek would take time and likely involve a combination of department mergers, reorganization and cross-training to provide services with fewer staffers.

“It would require careful consideration of how it would be accomplished,” Lawton said. “It won’t be easy, but it will be done correctly.”

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