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Tallmadge City Council considers ordinance that would change benefits of non-union city employees

by Holly Schoenstein | reporter Published: January 20, 2014 9:55 AM
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Tallmadge — Non-union employees of the city of Tallmadge might experience a change in benefits, if City Council approves an ordinance that would alter the way sick time and vacation days are earned and used.
Although the ordinance was at third reading Jan. 9, Council didn’t vote on it per Mayor Dave Kline’s request. He said he wanted to give Council members more time to ask the administration questions about it.
Council is expected to address the ordinance at the next committee meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 21.
The ordinance, which Kline said the administration reviews and updates periodically, includes changing the city’s policy for employee vacation accrual so that employees earn vacation time throughout the year with every pay period, instead of the current policy that grants all of the eligible vacation time to employees at the first of the year. The amount of vacation time staff members can earn wouldn’t be reduced, Kline said.
Employees who have one to four full years of service would earn 3.08 hours of vacation time per two-week pay period; five to nine years 4.62 hours; 10 to 14 6.16 hours; and 11 to 15 7.70 hours. Employees with more than 15 years of service would earn 7.70 hours. Employees would be permitted to bank a maximum of 280 hours, the equivalent of seven weeks of vacation.  
As of now, employees hired before Jan. 1, 2010, can earn a maximum of five weeks of vacation, and those hired after can earn up to four weeks. Employees are permitted to roll over two weeks of vacation and cash out an additional week.
The ordinance also would eliminate existing and new employees’ ability to cash out any earned and unused vacation time.
“They could cash 40 hours of vacation and get paid like another paycheck. People would use that as a Christmas bonus check,” Kline said about the active policy. “Our theory is vacation is to be R&R, and we want you to take the vacation. We’re not allowing them to cash out the vacation.”
The administration isn’t proposing to change its sick time benefit. Sick time is accrued in the same manner as is proposed for vacation, but tracked separately. Each hour of earned sick time equates to a certain dollar amount that is paid.
Lloyd Alger, the only full-time employee in the city’s Information Technology Department and one of Kline’s appointments, took his concerns about the proposed ordinance to Council last month. In a prepared statement, he told Council the move was simply a way for the administration to take advantage of employees with no bargaining rights in order to cut costs, without regard to their dedication and loyalty or the impact it would have on the city’s departments.
“The administration has not taken seriously how hard the staff here works to go above and beyond their job descriptions, resolve inter-office disputes, and above all, to provide services even while the administration continues to run under-manned departments and avoid conversations about staffing levels,” Alger said.
The ordinance would force employees to take vacation and leave their departments even further understaffed, he said.
“Departments have functioned well enough to get by in the past because employees banked and cashed out vacation time rather than sacrifice productivity by vacating an office that has little to no backup options,” Alger said.
Even though the proposed vacation policy would give employees a total of seven weeks of vacation time each year, he said employees don’t believe supervisors would actually approve that much time off.
For future employees, the measure would eliminate the option to cash out unused sick time and implement a “difficult to manage paid time off scheme” that separates sick time and vacation days, instead of combining the two, Alger said.
The existing policy allows employees to cash out a portion of their unused sick time when they leave the city on good terms or retire. The maximum they can cash out is 1,200 hours at 50 percent of their dollar-per-hour wage rate. New employees would only be allowed to cash out a total of 900 sick time hours at 50 percent, Kline said.
The administration proposed the change in vacation time to prevent employees from retiring on Jan. 1 of any given year and taking vacation time they haven’t earned, a situation he said had happened but not often.
The proposal also would eliminate Good Friday as a paid holiday in lieu of adding Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, days that typically are slower for the city. City Hall usually closes early, and most employees take these days off anyway, Kline said.
A plus for permanent part-time employees would be that after working a total of 1,920 hours, they would be eligible for paid time off at a rate of 0.038 hours for every hour worked thereafter. The paid time off would cap at a total of 40 hours and won’t continue to accrue until some hours are used.
Kline said this would be a way to reward part-time employees for their time with the city and attract candidates for future part-time positions. At this time, the only benefit they get is sick time, which Kline said is required by state law.
Part-timers who are elected officials or considered seasonal, intermittent or special are excluded from the policy.
The city employs around a total of 150 to 200 full-time and part-time workers, depending on the season. Of its entire workforce, about 80 are full-time, according to Kline.
Seventy-two employees on the nonunion roster are part-time, which prompts him to say the city has more part-timers than ever before.
Even if Council approves the proposed ordinance, Kline said employees still would be compensated more than fairly. In addition to vacation and sick time, they’re entitled to three personal days and 13 holidays, all of which are paid.
“We have a great benefit package; it’s fantastic ... that’s two months off working for the city of Tallmadge,” he said.
Kline said the only real cost savings for the city would be that employees hired in the future wouldn’t be allowed to cash out as much unused sick time. Otherwise, the city is offering more benefits that would end up costing the city more.
Certain employees, such as those who work in the streets department, would be given more money to spend for their clothing allowance. The city would have the added expense of hiring someone to fill in for some part-timers when they use paid time off, particularly staff who have jobs that need to be covered in their absence, such as at the front desk at the Recreation Center.
Kline said the administration gave staff an opportunity to speak about the proposed changes before the ordinance was introduced to Council, and from that meeting some of the changes to the policy were adjusted.
Still, he said, some employees aren’t happy with the policy that’s in effect, yet alone the proposed changes. One policy that’s been in place and is common for municipalities pays employees $1,500 if they opt out of the city’s health insurance plan. Kline said employees who are covered by their spouse’s health insurance aren’t eligible for the money, and one employee disagreed and wanted to be paid the sum even though the city is still paying to cover her.
Some aspects of the ordinance would be effective Jan. 1, 2014, while others wouldn’t be effective until Jan. 1, 2015.
Contact this reporter at 330-541-9428 or hschoenstein@recordpub.com
Facebook: Holly Schoenstein, Record Publishing Co.
Twitter: @SchoensteinH

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