Health dept. employees air concerns PDF Print E-mail
Written by By JAN LARSON Sentinel County Editor   
Friday, 15 May 2009 10:59
Dressed in purple shirts with purple ribbons, 23 employees of the Wood County Health Department showed their solidarity Thursday evening. Their union representative asked the board of health to consider the "unilateral decision" by the health department management to eliminate the four-day work week for employees.
The board did not openly discuss the work week policy, but did go into executive session for one hour and 45 minutes to discuss personnel issues. When the 11 board members went back into public session, they showed their solidarity, voting unanimously to accept the resignation of long-time clinic supervisor Kathy Ferrell.
As they waited for the board to return, the staff - numbering nearly half of those employed at the health department - quietly discussed what they felt is unfair treatment by management. They listed not only the discontinuation of the four-day work week, but also the forcing out of dedicated employees and the violation of a health insurance policy for a new management member.
Their union representative, Khalid Jalil, explained to the board that the four-day work week had been eliminated only after questions arose about sanitarians getting overtime pay for working weekends. "This simple question was met with a 20-minute-long caucus by management," he said. The reply was that the four-day work weeks would be eliminated, no overtime would be paid to staff, and sanitarians may be scheduled to work full-time on weekends.
When first introduced last year, the four-day work week was promoted as a win-win for the citizens of the county and the health department employees, according to Wood County Health Commissioner Pam Butler. The change would allow for expanded hours for the public, more flexibility for employees and a savings in gasoline expenses.
Though the board of health supported the switch to the four-day work week, the elimination of that program was a "unilateral decision" by management, Jalil said.
"This was never brought to the board," he said.
However, after Thursday's meeting, Butler said the four-day work week was always intended to be a "pilot program," which in this case did not prove to serve the public well.
"It was always supposed to be mutually beneficial," she said.
Butler also said the decision was not made without board knowledge. She said the matter was discussed with board members, but not at a public meeting.
Jalil also said employees are concerned about inconsistent enforcement of a county health insurance policy that does not provide coverage for spouses with incomes above a certain level. However, at last month's meeting the health board voted to give its new nursing director a monthly stipend of $1,032.91 for health insurance. Butler explained that during an interview for the position, Ann Smith was promised full coverage. It was only after she was hired that it was discovered her husband, a dentist, did not qualify for the coverage - so the board approved the annual stipend of $12,394.92.
"That's a decision the board made," Butler said.
Jalil said several other health department employees, whose spouses need health coverage, have not been given the same treatment.
"None of our members' spouses are eligible for primary health care coverage," he said.
Jalil also informed the board that employees have been discouraged by management from discussing health department issues with board members.
"We believe that the board should be kept abreast of issues even between meetings," he said. "Please let us know if you do not want to be contacted at any time other than these meetings."
Board President Dr. Steve Dood addressed that issue after the executive session.
"We want to assure you we have heard your questions," Dood said, adding that efforts will be made to set up a more effective chain of communication.

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