SARATOGA COUNTY -- Nearly half of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday slammed county government for withdrawing a plan to pay coronavirus-related overtime to the county's unionized employees who are "essential" during the pandemic as well as some managers.
"We were unsettled to learn that in what can only be characterized as a political April Fool's Day prank, the previously promised time-and-a-half compensation to the rank and file employees will now be completely withdrawn, back to March 20 on a retroactive basis so as to not appear in an employee's next payroll check," 10 of the 23 county board members wrote in an open letter to board Chairman Preston Allen.
Some of the signers of the letter had criticized the county for paying time-and-a-half during the coronavirus emergency to managers, but a temporary compensation committee has now withdrawn the compensation plan, retroactive to March 20, the letter writers said.
The emergency compensation plan was approved by the Board of Supervisors at its March 17 meeting, with the understanding it would be reviewed weekly by a compensation committee until the end of the emergency, which was declared in March 16, after the county reported its first cases of COVID-19. As of Wednesday, there were 131 confirmed cases.
"Although we did not agree with the decision to compensate non-management employees with a 50 percent raise under the framework first set forth by the administration and the compensation committee, to go back on a compensation promise made in order to force the facts to fit a new narrative for political gain does a disservice to all county employees, shows bad faith in labor negotiations and does not foster a healthy employer/employee relationship," the letter said. "Non-management rank and file should be paid their time and half as promised by the administration and compensation committee for this pay period."
The letter is signed by supervisors representing some of the county's largest and most-powerful towns. The signers included Phil Barrett, R-Clifton Park, Jonathan Schopf, R-Clifton Park, Kevin Tollisen, R-Halfmoon, Darren O'Connor, R-Malta, Theodore Kusnierz Jr., R-Moreau, John Lant, R-Wilton, Tara Gaston, D-Saratoga Springs; Matthew Veitch, R-Saratoga Springs, Eric Connolly, R-Ballston, and Benny Zlotnick, R-Milton.
In the letter, the signers commended county leadership for reversing the decision to give time-and-a-half to management personnel, retroactive to March 20. "This will go a long way toward reaffirming the county's commitment to our residents as a board committed to integrity and fiscal responsibility," they wrote.
But they questioned whether it was fair to withdraw the deal from unionized employees, who were to receive additional compensation on the grounds that their work could expose them to the highly contagious virus.
The Saratoga County Deputy Sheriff's Police Benevolent Association said it is willing to negotiate with the county's elected leadership given the challenges the county is facing, and retroactive withdrawal of the anticipated pay increase didn't sit well, even though members realized the pay boost was to be only temporary. "To say our membership felt mislead and disappointed would be a vast understatement," the PBA said in a Wednesday night statement.
County Administrator Spencer Hellwig, who is on the special compensation committee and oversees the county budget, did not respond to a request for comment, nor did a county spokesman.
Under emergency conditions, about three-quarters of the county workforce has been sent home, but those deemed essential -- including public health nurses, sheriff's deputies, emergency dispatchers and corrections officers -- are reporting to work. About 340 employees are reporting to work, and the extra compensation was expected to cost the county somewhere over $150,000 per week.
"All our county employees on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight have, and continue to, work selflessly to carry out their responsibilities during these difficult times, putting the needs of our county residents first," the letter writers said. "We unwaveringly support their efforts and commend their tireless work to protect the citizens of our county and it is only proper that the county does the same and respects the provisions of the negotiated contracts that are in place and the promises that were made by administration and county leadership are honored."
According to a letter to residents from Allen posted on the county website, county managers are being compensated at their regular salaries, although they were originally authorized for the extra pay, and the time and a half for rank-and-file employees has also been dramatically scaled back from what was discussed at the March 17 meeting.
"The only employees getting time and a half are those who are working in our COVID-19 command center," Allen wrote. "This group varies from day to day but is on average staffed with 40 employees."
Allen said several county employees have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and others have been quarantined.
The writers are seeking a special meeting of the Board of Supervisors to address the situation, which they noted has some members of the county's labor unions being compensated differently from others.
"Retroactively taking away pay promised and negotiated with county employees is a terrible practice that likely will expose the county to a legal challenge and can severely affect morale amongst the employees that serve our residents day-to-day," the letter writers concluded.