Tuesday, August 24, 1999

Hamilton smooths pay dispute

Plan would help workers replace check

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — The uproar over payroll changes has quieted after city and union leaders worked out a plan that would minimize the effect of holding back a week's pay for about 500 city workers.

        City Council approved the previously disputed payroll system at a special meeting Monday. The plan includes options designed to assist employees who would experience financial hardship as a result of the new system.

        “As long as (employees) get paid what they're supposed to get paid for the year, it's a good plan. ... It's fair,” said Sam Hopkins, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 38, which represents city police officers.

        New payroll computer software is necessary, officials said, to help combat the Y2K bug, to comply with federal and state regulations and to streamline the payroll process.

        Usually paid biweekly, employees were upset because implementing the new payroll system requires that they wait three weeks for their first October paycheck — and would receive just 25 paychecks for this year rather than 26. Each employee will get all money owed, because the held-back week's pay will be distributed upon termination of city service.

        However, some viewed the resulting decrease in the year's total salary as a problem, saying it could violate contracts that guaranteed annual salaries and could negatively affect some workers' pensions, which are calculated based on the three highest years of annual pay, officials said.

        Under the plan approved Monday, workers may choose among four options to make up for the week's pay that is being withheld:

        • Take out an interest-free loan through the employee credit union

        • Ask to receive their longevity check in October rather than as usual in December

        • Turn in a week's vacation, compensatory time or other earned time — not sick leave — to receive an additional week's pay

        • Ask for a week's pay in advance, then repay the total amount via biweekly paycheck deductions during the next year.

        Employees also may choose not to participate and simply wait three weeks for their regular paychecks, officials said.

        City Manager Steve Sorrell credited the “Team Hamilton” process, a cooperative labor-management system, with finding ways to decrease the impact on employees.

        “I think this is a teamwork project,” he said.


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