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Monday, April 8, 2013

Snow-day pay: The issue isn’t melting away

As published in the Record Journal on Sunday April 7, 2013

By Jesse Buchanan
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2230
Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

Although it’s rare for Town Hall to close due to bad weather, the question of paying workers under those circumstances has become a contentious issue between Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. and town employee union leaders.

Dickinson said the town is under no obligation to pay workers for Feb. 11, the day Town Hall was closed due to a blizzard. To get paid, employees must use a vacation day, Dickinson said in a Feb. 14 memo.

Dickinson said he can remember closing Town Hall one other time, but couldn’t recall the year. He has been mayor for almost 30 years.

Despite the infrequency, Dickinson said he’s trying to establish a policy.

“These things do arise,” he said. “You can’t look at it as a one-time expense. It becomes a potential ongoing issue.

Town Personnel Director Terence Sullivan said he can only remember a handful of times that Town Hall has closed due to weather in the last two decades.

“It’s so infrequent you can probably count on one hand,” he said. “It’s a very infrequent occurrence.”

Based on adding the salary and overtime costs of Town Hall departments in the 2011-12 fiscal year budget, Wallingford pays more than $22,000 per day in employee compensation. The yearly salary costs were divided by the 248 workdays to estimate daily employee pay.

The salary figure didn’t include police, fire, public works and utilities, since those departments operate in all weather.

Departments at both Town Hall and 6 Fairfield Boulevard were included in the daily salary estimate.

Dickinson didn’t have an estimate of how much a day’s pay would cost Town Hall.

Jason Zandri, a Town Council Democrat running for mayor, said it’s unfair to expect town employees to use a vacation day when Dickinson closes Town Hall. Paying employees who stay home in a storm isn’t a common occurrence, Zandri said Refusing to pay employees for a snow day was “completely in character” for Dickinson, according to Zandri. He said the mayor is looking to save money by not paying employees, but risking thousands of dollars in a legal battle that the town will likely lose.

“You get to 20 hours of legal fees and you’re already halfway there,” Zandri said.

Town leaders shouldn’t be intimidated by unions threatening arbitration, according to Republican Councilor Craig Fishbein.

“Merely to run away and cower in the corner because of the arbitration process is, in my opinion, not the appropriate way to deal with these issues,” Fishbein said.

Fear of losing arbitration and incurring legal fees is often used as a reason by the council to avoid conflict with the unions, he said.

Chuck Ballard, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Co. 4, Local 1183, said the union has filed for an arbitration hearing date with the state labor board. He declined to comment on the issue and its effects on employees.

“This is definitely an ongoing process,” he said.

No date has been set for arbitration. “Typically these take awhile,” Ballard said. “If it takes less than a year, I’d be surprised.”

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