WILKES-BARRE — A union representative defended the timing of an email sent over the weekend to members about a vote today to save the jobs of nearly two dozen county workers.
Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees belong to one of 10 unions representing Luzerne County employees being asked to make concessions on their health care coverage to close a $1.4 million gap in next year’s budget and prevent the layoff of up to 36 workers. County Council is set to meet tonight to discuss the layoffs that would go into effect on Tuesday.
An anonymous email sent to The Times Leader and other media Sunday afternoon complained that such an important issue was being rushed through and many AFSCME members won’t return to work until Jan. 2 after the critical vote on concessions.
“Members will be asked to cast a vote without having ample time to study the facts or get well-informed answers that are needed in order to cast an educated vote,” read the anonymous email.
Paula Schnelly, who represents 340 AFSCME members, said she used the county email with permission Friday night and expected criticism on the last-minute notification. A mailing to all the members would take too long and flyers couldn’t be made up quick enough to inform them of the union vote to be held from noon to 5 p.m. today, she said, adding the union didn’t get answers from the county on the concessions until the night before the email went out.
“I knew this would be extremely controversial,” Schnelly said of the mass email.
AFSCME members are being asked to agree to switch to a single insurance provider, Blue Cross, that’s offering a new plan that increases co-payments and adds a $500 hospital deductible payment. County Council earlier this month passed a budget that raised taxes 8 percent and reduced the number of layoffs, leaving a shortfall that could be erased with concessions.
Schnelly said the urgency was due to the council meeting tonight and the need to keep the AFSCME members working.
“We saw this as a last-ditch effort to save the jobs of 23 AFSCME members to be laid off on Dec. 31,” Schnelly said. “Doing so will ensure that no AFSCME members are furloughed for all of 2014.”
County Manager Robert Lawton said he was unaware of the anonymous email, but reiterated Schnelly’s concerns about saving jobs.
“An affirmative vote on the health insurance issue would result in our rescinding the layoff notices that were sent out,” Lawton said.
Lawton has been fair to the union, added Joe Rowe, acting director of AFSCME council 87. Rowe is traveling from Harrisburg to meet with county officials at 10:30 a.m. today before the union vote.
“We’re doing the best we can for our members,” Rowe said while acknowledging that some people will still be disappointed with the end results.