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May 13, 2011

 

Virgil highway employees upset with new OT rules

They want town to nix new policy that requires full work week before getting overtime

By MATTHEW NOJIRI
Staff Reporter
mnojiri@cortlandstandardnews.net

VIRGIL — Virgil highway employee Ron Stanley stormed out of the monthly town hall meeting Thursday night, upset about the changes made to the town’s personnel policy.
“We should be able to use what time we’ve earned, that vacation time,” Stanley said, raising his voice in frustration. “That’s time I’ve earned in 26 years working for this town.”
On Thursday, eight members of the Highway Department contested the section of the town’s newly implemented personnel policy that deals with overtime hours. During the meeting, they tried to get the town to change the policy but did not get the change they were looking for.
In January, the town adopted a new policy, which says employees can only receive overtime wages after doing 40 hours of actual work.
This means that sick days, vacation time, holiday pay and compensatory time do not count toward the number of hours an employee has worked during the week.
Stanley said this is problematic for the highway employees who work during the day but are sometimes called in to do work after-hours or on weekends. If an employee uses a sick or vacation day during the week and does not reach 40 hours of actual work, he or she is not eligible for overtime, he said.
Stanley said the highway employees should receive overtime pay when they are called in to do work outside of their normal work schedule, regardless of how many hours they have worked during the week.
“All we want is the policy we had, the past practice,” Stanley said, adding that it would affect the highway employees more during the winter.
Stanley said while the personnel policy was passed in January, it only took effect in March.
The employees insisted the law allows the town to set its overtime policy, but town Supervisor John Kaminski said he was not sure. He said he consulted the Fair Labor Standards Act and the state Labor Department when he wrote the personnel policy section regarding overtime hours.
He said he was following the law.
“This is just a matter of what I can do and what I can’t do. I can’t find a federal standard that allows us to do that,” Kaminski said of using sick, paid or vacation time to count toward actual work time.
Kaminski did not have a figure for how much money the new overtime policy would cost in comparison to previous years.
“I’m looking for rules that supersede the state and federal laws that allowed us to do this,” said Councilman Michael Vail. “We’re obligated to the taxpayers of Virgil to follow the law. Because if we don’t, the repercussions fall on them.”
Councilman Jereme Stiles said he supported moving the personnel policy back to how it used to be, but wanted to make sure any labor policy was legal.
“It’s been done a certain way for years,” Stiles said. “I personally am not a labor lawyer. I feel the change, it shouldn’t have happened the way it was. I want it to go back to the original way.”
Virgil Highway Superintendent John Morse said the change in the policy has affected his workers.
“All I asked for is the same benefit they’ve had for years,” Morse said. “The morale of the workers is not what it was. The guys were upbeat before but now it’s not that way.”
Morse said highway employees occasionally use their sick time or vacation time if they need to clock out before working a full day.
The Highway Department works five eight-hour days during the winter from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and four 10-hour days during summer hours from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Before the 40-hours rule, highway department employees received overtime when they were called into work during their off-hours or worked longer than their scheduled eight or 10-hour work day, Kaminski said.
As he left the meeting, Stanley questioned Kaminski about receiving overtime on the weekends. Stanley said that in March he worked during the weekend but had not received overtime.
Kaminski asked Stanley and Morse to meet with him next week and agreed that the department should be paid overtime on weekends.
“Work on Saturday and Sunday should get paid overtime,” Kaminski said during the meeting.
Stanley said he would file a complaint with the state Labor Department about the town’s personnel policy.
“It’s the point that it’s always been done that way,” Stanley said. “We just want to be compensated.”
Kaminski said he welcomed input from the Labor Department and hoped he could get some more clear direction on the overtime issue.

 

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