Whatcom County Master Furlough Update June 25, 2020
On Thursday, June 25, 2020, at 3:00 pm, the electronic voting service, BallotPoint, closed the voting polls for the Union Members of the Whatcom County Master Bargaining Unit to cast their vote to accept or reject the proposed Letter of Agreement outlining the implementation of 32 hours of furlough to be taken by Teamsters Bargaining Unit members prior to the end of the business day September 12, 2020. The Local Union was provided with the vote tally, and the results are as follows:
The Whatcom County Master Bargaining Unit Union Membership has voted to approve the proposed Letter of Agreement. Of eligible voters 69.1% voted. The vote percentages were 91.13% yes and 8.87% no.
Your Local Union Leadership team would like to thank each of you for the input received, and for casting your vote. We are hopeful that your efforts will provide the County with the financial relief necessary while reaching our common goal, avoiding layoffs. This was not an easy ask for any of you, and we want to acknowledge and thank you all for the commitment and support you have shown for your co-workers and the community. We acknowledge the financial hardship furloughs may have on you and your families. Yet, we are acutely aware of the impact layoffs have, not only on the individual, but on the department as a whole. We understand that when positions are cut, due to layoffs, the process of returning to stable staffing levels can take years to accomplish, leaving our membership overworked and faced with high stress levels. As we all know, the work does not go away! We thank you for making this sacrifice to support one another, and we appreciate your patience and understanding as we have worked diligently to address the needs of the membership throughout this process.
Your Union Leadership Team
Whatcom County Master Furlough Update June 18, 2020
To: Whatcom County Master Bargaining Unit Teamster Members
Re: Member Consideration and Vote
As you know from the Friday, May 12, 2020, letter from your Union Leadership Team, Whatcom County expressed deep concern over the inevitable economic impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic and requested to negotiate with the Union over proposed furlough days to help offset any financial losses incurred due to the Pandemic.
It is important to note that your Union Leadership entered negotiations with the goal of doing what we could to avoid layoffs and protect all jobs and positions for each one of you while working with the County to address the economic shortfall created by this Pandemic. The result of these negotiations is a Letter of Understanding that you will be voting on (See Below). Please watch your mail as voting instructions will be mailed to the membership on June 19, 2020 with a voting deadline of 3:00 pm on June 25, 2020.
If you have questions regarding the proposed Furlough LOU, you may contact your Union Representative directly at the Local Union office, or you can speak with your respective Stewards.
Rich Ewing, Secretary-Treasurer
Jennifer Thompson, Union Representative
Daron Smith, Union Representative
LETTER OF AGREEMENT
WHATCOM COUNTY, WASHINGTON
TEAMSTERS UNION LOCAL 231 – MASTER
Implementing Furlough Hours
This Letter of Agreement is by and between Whatcom County hereafter called “the County” and Teamsters Local 231, hereafter called “the Union” regarding the Master Collective Bargaining Agreement (MCBA) covering the period of April 23, 2019 through December 31, 2020.
The County projects a detrimental downturn of revenue following the prolonged economic shut down resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. A temporary reduction in employee compensation is an integral part of the County’s expenditure reduction effort to maintain sufficient cash balances. The County is committed to taking measures to avoid the layoff of employees through the agreed use of unpaid furlough hours.
The parties, therefore, agree to furlough hours as follows:
- Employees shall take 32 hours of unpaid time off in the form of a furlough by September 12, 2020.
- There shall be consistent participation of all County employees, union and non-represented, of this furlough plan unless specific equivalent alternatives are adopted by other bargaining units. If the Union identifies a perceived inconsistent participation in furloughs, the County shall enter into bargaining with the Union upon the Union’s written demand to bargain regarding such perceived inconsistency.
- Employees have the right to select their furlough hours based on seniority. The process for determining the selection of furlough hours shall be administered in accordance with the vacation selection procedure outlined in section 16.03 of the Master Collective Bargaining Agreement. Deadlines for furlough date selection shall be set by each department and shall be no less than two (2) weeks from the date of ratification of this Agreement.
- Employees choosing not to select their furlough hours by department specific deadlines will be assigned furlough hours by their supervisor. All furlough hours will be assigned and used on or before September 12, 2020.
- Consideration shall be given for employees to schedule furlough hours in connection with their existing scheduled time off. If a supervisor assigns an employee designated dates to take their furlough, every effort will be made to connect furlough hours with their existing scheduled time off.
- Juvenile Detention Officers and Public Works Central Shop employees will take furlough time off according to Addendum A.
- Unless otherwise specified herein, furloughs shall be taken in one (1) hour increments as approved by the employee’s supervisor.
- The County reserves the right to determine the number of employees needed in a work group based on operational needs and public service requirements.
- Employees may substitute 32 hours of already scheduled vacation for 32 hours of furlough.
- The County acknowledges and recognizes that a reduction in hours will result in less work performed and that certain delays in scheduled maintenance, projects, and short-term reductions in service to the public may result. Work expectations for all employees shall be commensurate with the reduced schedule.
- Furlough observance will not deprive any otherwise eligible employee from receiving Holiday Pay.
- Employees called in to work during their regularly scheduled shift while observing furlough hours will be compensated for actual hours worked at the appropriate rate of pay. The number of actual hours worked will be taken as unpaid furlough on an alternate day. For instance, if an employee comes to work for two hours, the employee will select two hours of unpaid furlough on an alternate day. Call back and daily overtime sections of the CBA will apply as appropriate.
- FLSA exempt employees shall take furlough hours in eight (8) hour increments. During a week in which a furlough day is taken, FLSA-exempt employees shall be required to track hours worked and report the hours on the FLSA non-exempt timesheet. FLSA exempt employees’ weekly schedule, including furloughs, shall not be more than forty (40) hours. FLSA exempt employees shall not be required to work hours in excess of their typical workweek during the week preceding or following a week containing a scheduled furlough.
- Unpaid furloughs taken in accordance with this Agreement shall be treated as if the hours were compensated for the purpose of leave accruals and maintenance of health and welfare benefits.
- In recognition of required furlough hours, vacation carryover as outlined in Article 16, section 16.02c shall increase from 240 hours to 272 hours into 2021.
- The County will not protest unemployment claims generated by the furloughs.
The parties further agree to meet early-August to review the County’s economic climate and to bargain over additional cost reduction measures, if needed.
Other terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement shall remain unmodified and in full force and effect.
Karen S. Goens, Human Resources
Rich Ewing, Teamsters Local 231
Satpal Sidhu, County Executive
Approved as to Form:
Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Date
DEPARTMENT SPECIFIC FURLOUGH PLAN
Juvenile Detention – Due to the 24/7 operation of Detention, the four remaining hours of the 28-day 7(k) exemption schedule will not be worked and will count towards the furlough requirement. The remaining time will be made up in 30 to 60-minute increments each week, depending upon staffing level, as scheduled by management, until the 32-hour furlough requirement is met.
Central Shop. Central Shop will be closed between June 29th and July 2nd to observe 32 hours of unpaid furlough; July 3rd is a paid holiday. All employees, including clerical staff, in Maintenance & Operations, Equipment Services and Stores shall take at least 12 hours of unpaid furlough during that week; 16 hours for clerical staff. Employees may elect to use paid vacation for the remaining hours of the week. Employees are encouraged to observe as much furlough time as possible to support the purpose of the shutdown.
Employees electing to use paid vacation during the furlough week will observe alternate furlough hours in full day increments, as selected by the employee and approved by the Supervisor, on either a Thursday or Friday, depending on the employee’s work assignment. Employees must make their choice on their timesheet which must be submitted by the end of the work day on June 24th. If no choice is made, the hours will be coded as furlough time off.
If an employee is called in to work during the furlough pursuant to section 3.05a(4), the employee will receive call back pay. The number of actual hours worked during the call back will be made up on an alternate day at straight time. For instance, if an employee is called out to replace a sign and works for two hours, the employee will take two hours of unpaid furlough on an alternate day. Employees called in to work outside of normal work hours during the furlough will not be required to make up the hours worked on an alternate day.
Whatcom County Master Update June 12, 2020
Whatcom County and Teamsters Local 231 continue to negotiate over County proposed furloughs. To date, your Union leadership team does not believe the County has addressed the needs of the membership through their counter proposals. Below you can read the letter, that Teamsters Local 231 sent on June 12th, asking the County to re-evaluate their proposals. We will provide another update when we receive the County’s response.
Nan Kallunki, Associate Manager
Whatcom County Human Resources
311 Grand Ave. Suite 107
Bellingham WA, 98225-4038
On May 8, 2020, the County provided the Union Leadership team with an email stating that there is a grave concern over a potential economic shortfall caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic and express concern over insufficient cash flow to “pay our existing staff” further stating “We don’t want to end employment for anyone when short-term cost reduction measures such as furloughs are available”.
Based on the County’s concerns, a common goal was born. That common goal was to avoid layoffs! The Union and the County are fully aware of the impacts layoffs have on impacted departments and workers. Both parties are also keenly aware of the challenges that come when attempting to rehire, and find the necessary budget means to re-instate lost workers. Both parties fully understand that while laying off an employee may address the financial problems, the workload does not go away and the communities of Whatcom County still anticipate, need, and expect the same level of services they are accustomed to receiving. It is the Union membership, your “essential workers”, who provide these services. This known fact supports the common goal as acknowledged by both parties.
When both parties have a common goal, the answer to finding common ground is found through working in collaboration with each other to address the needs of the parties to reach a viable solution and outcome. The Union Leadership team takes this goal very seriously; and, in furtherance of this objective, has gathered representatives from the various departments to discuss the needs of the County and the membership in order to meet that goal. We have shared questions with the County in order to gain a better understanding of the situation and we have made proposals that reflect the memberships’ needs all the while keeping sight of the common goal we are trying to achieve.
It is imperative that the County hear the voice of the membership. This voice has been made clear through the proposals provided, questions asked, and a desire to meet the common goal born out of this unprecedented time. Our membership, your employees have expressed a desire to work together with the County. However, the membership has asked for the following: A voice in deciding when to take furlough hours; a fair response from the County when these “essential workers” are required to return to meet the service needs of the County while taking leave without pay as required by the County at the same time. Members want assurance and a clear commitment from the County that this painful measure they are being asked to take will be felt equally and by all.
The Union provided you with a counter proposal on Tuesday, June 9, 2020, with a letter sharing with you the expressed angst, frustration, and difficulty this process has been thus far. In that letter, the Union shared with the County that despite these frustrations and concerns, the majority of the Union membership continued with an express desire to reach an agreement with the County to reach our common goal.
On Wednesday, June 10, 2020, I received an email from you with a counter proposal attached. In the email, you state the following: “for the most part however, you will see we’ve accepted or modified many of your proposed language changes.” With all due respect, I do not see that the County’s counter proposal has “accepted many” of the Union’s proposed language changes, and I would argue that indeed the County has modified many of the Union’s proposed language changes in ways that do not address the needs of the very membership (the Union) you are trying to reach a common goal with.
I would like to point out an example of this for you using a comment made in your email. The Union proposed allowing employees to take furloughs in hourly increments as was done during the recession. Again, the proposal was to address the need as expressed by the County for the membership to assist the County in creating some economic relief, a very painful and extremely challenging ask, as we all know the cost of living in this day and age does not change, there are still bills to be paid, food must be purchased, and for some of the members the reality of this pandemic has already hit home. People are already hurting and yet there is still a desire to reach this common goal. However, in your email you have responded by saying “With the hiring freeze, the high number of employees on leave due to Covid, and the added protocols and procedures, departments are already challenged in meeting daily operational needs, scheduling and tracking hourly furloughs adds another layer of complexity in an environment that is already very difficult. The Union upon reading this response is perplexed by this comment. It seems this request is not something the County can’t do but rather a request the County does not want to be burdened with.
While I understand that this may be burdensome, I would argue that it is doable and remind the County that what is being asked of the membership of this Union is indeed burdensome. The ask of the membership through this proposal creates additional tracking measures of which I assume are addressed through a request for time off form. The ask of the County for employees to take time off without pay comes with the burden of figuring out how to pay the bills or which items to leave off the grocery list. These are not the same burdens, and yet, the majority of the Union membership is willing to take this on in an effort to support the common goal.
The Union also proposed language to assure the membership that all employees working for the County would bear the same financial burden necessary to assure that the common goal was met. The membership did not come by this need arbitrarily. In fact, this need was born from past experience when the membership stepped up to help the County maintain solid footing during the recession and was told that everyone would be carrying the load equally only to find out that this was not the case. It is important for us to remember that what we do impacts the responses we will receive in the future. The employees working for the County during the recession did not forget, and in turn, it is important that we do not forget as well. This proposal was to provide assurance, and an acknowledgement that sometimes things change, and if they change, they should change for all. I do not understand and therefore I cannot explain to the membership why the County will not agree to the proposed “me too” language provided by the Union. The County has stated that there will be consistent participation of County employees, both union and non-represented, which brings to question why the County would resist agreeing to a proposal that commits to assuring our membership that if there is a change, or a better outcome for others that our membership shall receive the same.
In addition, the Union has a very express concern over the FLSA exempt portion of the membership. The Union proposed language that would assure this portion of our membership was not overworked in the weeks prior, or the weeks following furlough hours, because, as we both know, the workload will not go away, and the jobs need to get done. The Union membership impacted by this concern expressed an immediate reaction when questioned about furloughs and stated that they know full well this would be the expectation placed on them if we did not provide clear guidance in the Letter of Agreement. The Union provided this proposal to the County in all sincerity and the County’s counter proposal did not address this need.
Therefore, the Union is requesting that the County pause, and re-evaluate the entire counter proposal provided by the Union on June 10, 2020. The Union recognizes the County is experiencing an unknown economic shortfall and both parties recognize that there isn’t a clear picture as to how impactful and how quickly this economic shortfall will correct itself. Both parties also acknowledge that where Federal Relief Funds may assist in solidifying the budget, there are restrictions and required expenditures directly tied to this money. As such, the Union requests that the County look at the proposal and remember the common shared goal we are trying to accomplish amidst this mess.
We can overcome this challenge if we step up to face it equally. Again, both parties know the impacts of layoffs to be far reaching, painful, and burdensome for all. The County and the Union can continue to work together to reach this common goal if both parties are willing to share in the pain and accept that there will be hardships on both sides as a result. Please review the Union’s counter proposal and reassess your response.
Teamsters Local 231
On June 2, 2020, the Union received a modified proposal from Whatcom County regarding proposed furloughs. On Thursday evening, June 4, 2020, your Union leadership team met with shop stewards and advisory team members via the Zoom platform to discuss the County’s modified proposal as we work to prepare a counter proposal for the County. Please stay tuned for future updates as we work through the process.
May 12, 2020
To: Whatcom County Master Bargaining Unit Teamster Members
From: Rich Ewing, Secretary-Treasurer
Jennifer Thompson, Union Representative
Daron Smith, Union Representative
Re: Whatcom County Proposed Furloughs
On Friday, May 8, 2020, your Union Leadership Team received an email from Whatcom County expressing deep concern over the inevitable economic impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic and requesting to negotiate with the Union over County proposed furlough days.
Your Union has responded to the County with several questions and a request for further information regarding the County’s current financial status and future financial projections in preparation for bargaining. We will be reaching out to the shop stewards as we begin the process of negotiations with the County in an effort to assure that your voice is heard. It is important that we bargain with the County to protect all jobs and positions for each one of you while we work with the County to address the economic shortfall created by the COVID-19 Pandemic.
We want to thank each of you for the hard work, commitment, and patience you have shown throughout this unprecedented time. We understand the fear and anxiety this has created for all of you and we want to assure you that we are committed to working hard to ensure the best feasible outcome during this crisis.
Please look to the Union Website for updates (www.231teamsters.org), and in addition, watch your mail, as we are sending out a sign-up form for you to receive text and email communications. We encourage you to communicate and share your ideas and concerns with your shop steward as we begin negotiations with the County, or you may contact your Union Representative directly. When a tentative agreement has been reached between the Union and Whatcom County, notification will be sent to the Union membership with voting instructions.