The need to pay Essex County employees overtime for work done in a situation like working as election inspectors while taking a vacation day from their regular job comes down to a combination of the Union Contract and labor laws.
“Under the terms of the current contract with the union, vacation, personal and sick time will be calculated as time worked,” County Manager Daniel Palmer said. “I have been here for 18 years, and it has always been a part of the contract.”
Palmer emailed Article 41 of the contract to the Valley News, which is in reference to overtime:
“Except for those employees at the Horace Nye Home, as defined in Article 16 subsection A., employees (so entitled under the Fair Labor Standards Act) shall receive one and one-half (1 ½) times their normal rate of pay for approved hours in excess of forty (40) hours in any week.”
“The key words are, ‘for approved hours in excess of forty,’” Palmer added. “In other words, if the department head approves them to use vacation time, personal time or sick time, then anything in excess of 40 in the week becomes overtime.”
Palmer said that the agreement was put into the contracts to help employees receive fair wages.
“Employees, particularly in DPW in the summer, were really forced to use their vacation time,” Palmer said. “So in that case, an employee could be forced to take a couple of days vacation, then end up working 12 or 14 hours blacktopping in a town, but without this clause would have been paid straight time.”
According to Palmer, the matter comes down to the negotiated agreement between the two sides.
“The Fair Labor Standards Act clearly says this is a matter of agreement between us and the Union,” Palmer said.
Palmer added that he could see how some people might take issue with the policy, but that it is part of the employee union contract.
“I don't know if it should be changed, but the reality is I have an adopted contract that I have to abide by,” he said.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas said that he has not heard a lot of complaint about the provision and, in the case of county employees working as election inspectors, they are only used if needed.
“I do not want to use the county employees out at sites where there are people who are lined up and willing to work,” Douglas said.
Douglas added that he was under a similar overtime provision when he was employed through the state correctional program.
“We had the same kind of policy there,” Douglas said. “If we took time off at the beginning of the week and then were called in for extra shifts, we would get the overtime.”