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Hernando County, Teamsters struggle to find fair way to lay off employees

BROOKSVILLE — Teamsters and Hernando officials wrestled this week with a thorny question: What's the fairest way to decide who keeps their job when someone must be laid off and the issue of seniority among the impacted employees is unclear?

Go in alphabetical order? Maybe use Social Security numbers or birthdays? How about a coin flip?

All of those options were considered during the contract talks, and the winning strategy is decidedly old school: The officials will pull a name out of a hat, or in this case, a container.

What may appear to be a serendipitous way to determine someone's livelihood emerged during talks this week between the county's administrative services director Cheryl Marsden, other county supervisors and members of the Teamsters Local 79.

Marsden and other county supervisors met this week with officials from Teamsters Local 79, which represents roughly 440 of the county's 660 employees. This is the second negotiated contract for the group, which organized county employees in 2009.

One of the more problematic issues during this period of budget cuts and staff slashing was how to assign seniority to an employee if more than one worker has the same hire date.

Under a plan both teams supported, the first fall-back would be the dates the employees applied for the job. If two people had the same hire date but one applied sooner, that person would be granted seniority.

The negotiators decided they needed another solution if multiple people had applied for the job on the same day. The tiebreaker the teams favor adding to the contract would be to pull a name out of a container.

In an earlier conversation, the teams figured the person whose name was pulled from the hat would be the one laid off. But during Tuesday's session, they agreed that getting your name selected usually comes with a reward. Therefore, the person whose name is chosen would get seniority.

Union officials wanted "something totally random, nothing predetermined,'' Teamster team member Paul Wieczorek said. He noted that if the tiebreaker was to grant seniority based on alphabetical order, "I'd be first every time'' to be laid-off.

The group also considered other possibilities such as using a birth date or a Social Security number — even tossing a coin.

That wouldn't work, the teams noted, if there were more than two people involved. For example, when the county took on the Florida Water utility years ago, numerous employees all started with the county at the same time and they all have the same hire date.

Non-union employees will continue to use the county policy system in place before the union contract was approved two years ago.

"The order of layoff of all employees within a particular status of employment shall be determined by the department director after giving due consideration to all relevant factors which shall include, but not be limited to, seniority and the relative efficiency of the employee (including certifications held, CDL licenses, etc.),'' the policy states.

Bargaining team member Chris Soto asked whether the name pulled from the hat would always have seniority over the others with the same hire date. The teams agreed the designation should be permanent.

The teams agreed to the new tiebreaker and set the issue aside to read it back again and possibly approve it more formally at an upcoming session.

Contract talks continue at 8:30 a.m. today at the Department of Public Works.

Critical talks about monetary items and benefits are not expected until some bargaining meeting after the County Commission conducts a closed executive session on contract strategy at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando County, Teamsters struggle to find fair way to lay off employees 08/03/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 8:17pm]
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