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One person's trash is another person's trash

November 06, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County Forty West Landfill employees were among the highest earners in overtime throughout county government in the last two fiscal years, largely because of a union contract that mandates they work extra hours.

Some County Commissioners and county staff said in recent interviews that the union contract for landfill employees states they must work six days a week, but they said they weren't sure why it's written that way or how long the rule has been in place.

Of the top 10 county employees who accumulated the most overtime in fiscal year 2003, six worked at the landfill. In fiscal year 2004, which ended June 30, eight of the top 10 were landfill employees, according to information provided by the county. The remaining top earners for both fiscal years were employees of the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

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In fiscal years 2003 and 2004, each of the top landfill employees earned between $11,528 and $16,403 in overtime, according to the county information.

The landfill's top earner in overtime in fiscal years 2003 and 2004 was Donald L. Faith. Faith, whose base salary was $33,064 in fiscal year 2003, was paid $16,403 in overtime for working an additional 685.7 hours that year, according to county information.

Faith's base salary was $33,799 in fiscal year 2004, and he earned $15,764 in overtime for working an additional 647 hours, according to county information.

The employees receive overtime pay - which is time and a half - when they work more than 40 hours a week.

The landfill, which has eight equipment operators and four scale house operators, is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Solid Waste Director Robert Davenport said he didn't know an exact reason why the union contract mandates the six-day workweek, but one reason could be because it's hard to find employees who are willing to work on Saturdays.

He said the contract has been written that way since he began working for the county in 1983.

"Maybe it's time to renegotiate the contract," Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said in a recent interview.

Human Resources Director David Hankinson said that renegotiations probably wouldn't happen soon because the contract for landfill employees runs through July 30, 2008.

It took effect on July 1, 2003, and was approved by both the commissioners and the employees' union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

"It's been the most cost-efficient way to operate," Dennis W. Embly, the AFSCME president representing county employees, said in an interview this week.

Embly, who also is a motor equipment operator at the landfill, said having employees work six days a week costs less than hiring additional personnel.

He estimated covering the overtime hours current employees work would require hiring an additional nine to 10 employees. When benefits are included, hiring new people would be more costly, Embly said.

Landfill employees also work extra time before and after their shifts or can be called in at night, Embly said. He said landfill employees sometimes assist the Highway Department with snow removal during storms, which also adds to their overtime pay.

In addition, Embly said that the landfill is "self-sufficient," meaning its operational cost is funded through money collected for services, not by contributions from the county's budget.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the commissioners normally don't review how much overtime pay employees receive, as long as departments don't exceed their overtime budgets.

Another commissioner, John C. Munson, said sometimes it's cheaper to pay overtime than hire additional personnel, but that practice "can go too far."

He said he plans to discuss the overtime issue with the county's Solid Waste Advisory Committee, of which he is a member. He said he would like to find out whether it would cost less to alternate shifts at the landfill or hire more people.

"Department heads have to look at that and be more cautious with overtime," Munson said.

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