Friday, July 11, 2014

Council tables same-sex benefits; 36 layoff notices go out

December 17. 2013 11:56PM

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County Council on Tuesday night tabled a proposed ordinance to start offering health benefits to the same-sex partners of Luzerne County government employees.

Councilman Jim Bobeck, a major supporter of the additional benefits, supported the tabling, saying he doesn’t want the impression the change was pushed through before two new council members take office next month.

Using Allegheny County’s same-sex benefits as a benchmark, Bobeck estimated that about three Luzerne County employees would be interested in participating, which would cost the county around $33,000 next year. That expense was not factored into the county’s 2014 budget.

Councilman Rick Williams supported a vote for the ordinance, saying it would send a message the county values “justice and equality.”

Councilwoman Elaine Maddon Curry, who leaves office the end of the month, said elected officials should ensure all employees are treated fairly.

Councilman Rick Morelli said he does not believe council should act until the state legalizes same-sex marriage.

“Until that great day, I think this ordinance needs to be adopted,” Williams said.

In other business, county Manager Robert Lawton told council layoff notices will be issued to 36 union and non-union employees today in case workers don’t accept health care concessions by the end of the year to close a $1.4 million gap in the 2014 budget.

Lawton said he must give notice now because the impacted employees would be furloughed in two weeks, but the layoffs can be rescinded if he receives written agreements accepting concessions from the county’s 10 unions.

The county is asking unions to switch to one insurance provider, increase copayments and add a $500 hospital stay deductible. Several unions have tentatively agreed, but county Chief Solicitor C. David Pedri said he has not yet received any memorandums of understanding formalizing their acceptance.

Pedri told council county detectives have rejected the concession. Four unions represented by Teamsters Local 401 are voting this week, and discussions continue with the prison union, officials have said.

The administration also will start converting non-union employees to 37.5-hour work weeks on Jan. 1 to comply with a council mandate, but these workers won’t receive additional pay for putting in more hours, Lawton told council.

Full-time county employees currently work anywhere from 32.5 to 40 hours a week depending on the position and department.

Lawton had considered laying off non-union workers to come up with money to pay others more for increased hours. However, he concluded that option would not make sense because many employees who would receive the higher pay are in departments that would not have staff cuts.

Increased hours for union workers must be negotiated as their contracts expire, and officials acknowledged unions may not agree to work more without additional compensation.

Council also filled numerous vacancies on county boards and authorities, including the following: Luzerne County Community College Board of Trustees, George Hayden (reappointment), Margaret Steele and Michael Tigue; Convention Center Authority, which oversees the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township, Ed Harry (reappointment); Redevelopment Authority, Judith Barr and Carol Keup; Transportation Authority, George Hart and John Koch; Zoning Board, Dave Williams (reappointment); Workforce Investment Board, Lisa Natt; Recreation Facilities Advisory Board, Phil Russo (reappointment); Children and Youth Advisory Board, Lorine Angelo Ogurkis; Aging Board, Ann Cocco (reappointment); and Farmland Preservation Board, Amy Salansky.

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