BI-WEEKLY PAY SCHEDULE “SHELL GAME” BEING USED TO SHORT EMPLOYEES PAY

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Three card monte shell game

Across the country, legislative and executive action is being taken by state and municipal politicians to change the pay schedules of public employees. The new pay plan appears on the surface to be a benefit to employees by creating 26 paydays in a year instead of 24. But analysts and payroll employees are coming forward with figures that say otherwise.

In West Virginia, the State Senate has already approved the move to a bi-weekly pay schedule. The change will affect employees statewide.[1] In other parts of the country, the change is beginning at the municipal level.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, employees are raising concerns over Mayor Dewey F. Bartlett’s proposed bi-weekly pay schedule change. AFSCME Local 1180, the recognized bargaining agent for Tulsa’s employees not in the police or fire service, have performed an independent analysis of the pay schedule changes and consulted accountants and payroll staff to double-check the Mayor’s math. The findings illustrate that the bi-weekly payroll schedule will, in actual fact, be shorting many City employees an average of 93.3 hours of work annually. In effect, the payroll change functions as a furlough. But the City of Tulsa maintains that they will be paying employees for “hours worked”.

Payroll employees and supervisors in Tulsa are disputing the administration’s claims. According to Helen Collins, a payroll clerk, the city is actually paying-out 25 pay checks – not 26. In addition, Helen draws attention to the fact that City employees are salaried – not hourly. She feels that the City’s response is unsatisfactory and has pressed her AFSCME representatives and local media to ask more thorough questions.

At a recent meeting of the Tulsa City Council, AFSCME Local 1180 President Michael Rider took the employees questions to the public and the Councilors. The question: Are the employees losing pay from their established salaries? The City’s continued, uniform response: Employees will be paid for hours worked. Speaking on behalf of the Mayor, Jim Twombly – who had been fired from his previous position in Broken Arrow, OK amidst scandal – continued to insist that employees will not be losing pay. When asked why the City was making the move to a bi-weekly system, Twombly claimed that the reason was efficiency, stating that the City faces a problem of multiple payroll systems that the change would correct. It was pointed out, however, that police and fire would not be shifting to the bi-weekly schedule and that, in the past, the City had attempted similar moves that were stopped by court-order. This raised the additional question posed by AFSCME 1180 President Rider, “If this is about efficiency, since police and fire are exempt, we will continue to have two pay roll systems.” Council then pressed the issue with Twombly asking why the change would only affect the non-police and non-fire employees. Twombly explained the reason for focusing on the “non-sworn” employees was due to the fact that police and fire have a collective bargaining agreement. This display of ignorance was quickly corrected by those present at the Council’s session.

As the AFSCME 1180 President pointed out during the Council session, the City of Tulsa employees are also protected from arbitrary pay changes by collective bargaining agreements enforced by a City Ordinance which has been upheld by the City Council. In response, the Mayor of Tulsa is enforcing the pay change through what can only be interpreted as an executive order. This issue has placed the Council in a difficult position. Many Councilors are alarmed by the Mayor’s moves to violate both the City’s Ordinance and the employees’ collective bargaining agreements.

According to rank-and-file insiders, there is discussion amongst the workforce of taking action to prevent the change. The Tulsa World recently reported that union members are weighing options from filing for an injunction against the change to proposing a strike vote. At present, the issue is still unresolved.

When polled, the majority of the City Council is standing with the City’s non-sworn employees. But in a move that appears to many as an admission by the Mayor’s office that the pay change is illegal, employees are being required to sign a waiver that will be used against them should they file a legal claim against the City with the Department of Labor. The union has been discouraging employees from signing the City’s documents but, according to one union steward, the employees are being intimidated when they refuse. One employee at the City of Tulsa’s Sewer Base was threatened with being sent to a pre-termination hearing if he refused to sign. Other employees in Tulsa’s technical departments have reported similar pressure.

Union representatives tell Rank and File Review that they are currently entertaining proposals from the membership for additional actions to stop the move. According to the union’s President, “I am expecting a motion to come from the rank-and-file any day proposing that our Executive Board begin preparations for establishing a strike fund”.

RAF Staff

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