VIDEO: Bloomingdale Council Considers 5-Day Work Week
Borough attorney said employee contracts are 'unenforceable.'
The Bloomingdale Council majority expressed that they would like the borough to move to a five-day work week during a special meeting Tuesday in which eight borough employees agreed to have contract discussions designated for executive session made public.
If the borough went to a five-day week, borough employees would have to work on Fridays, with Borough Hall being open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, as opposed to being open until 6 p.m. Monday-Thursday, as it is currently.
During the discussion, Borough Attorney Mark Semeraro said that he was asked by the council majority to examine the legality of contracts the employees, who are the heads of several departments including Business Administrator Ted Ehrenburg, Borough Clerk Jane McCarthy, DPW Superintendent Al Gallagher, Chief Financial Officer Donna Molineaux and more, entered into under the previous administration.
According to Semeraro, the contracts for the employees are for six years, although Semeraro said that some of the employees have set term limitations under state statute while others are at the pleasure of the mayor and council. The contracts do not establish terms for pay rates, raises, or financial information, Ehrenburg said.
Semeraro said that since the contracts determine longer terms than outlined by state statute, the contracts are unenforcable. Also included in the contracts are provisions that employees are to work Monday through Thursday until 6 p.m. and that they would not work on Fridays. As the enforceability of the contracts was being examined, Semeraro said he was also asked to examine whether the borough could then move to a five-day work week.
The employees sat at a table before the board while Semeraro gave his opinion during Tuesday's meeting. After, they were given the opportunity to express their thoughts.
Ehrenburg said that he wished the issue of the five-day work week was brought up to the employees during their departmental meetings.
"Why did we have to put this in this contentious mode here? We picked this format to do this? I have a problem with that," he said.
Council President Linda Huntley said it was the decision of the employees for the contract discussions to be made public. Throughout the meeting, Huntley, as well as others on the council majority, said that she has been approached by several residents who have expressed that they would benefit from being able to go to Borough Hall on Fridays, and that they would prefer that it be open five days instead of four.
"I've talked to a lot of people in this town and to a lot of voters and they want to go back to a five-day work week and so do I," Councilwoman Jo-Ann Pituch said.
Pituch also said she was concerned about the borough being closed on Fridays and if a holiday fell on a Monday, that Borough Hall would be closed for four days, although Ehrenburg said those instances are rare because he said the borough makes calendar adjustments for those instances.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, one resident said she would like Borough Hall to be open on Fridays in case of an emergency she needs to take care of right away, while another resident said she cannot get to Borough Hall by 4 p.m.
Former Councilman Dean Specchio suggested the borough look into polling borough residents about what they would prefer through the borough website. He also said that throwing out the contracts would be a "direct attack" on the borough employees affected.
Former Council President Jennifer Altfield said, "When you have good employees, you hold on to them." Altfield said that coming to Borough Hall after work is more of an asset to her than being able to come on Fridays.
Ehrenburg said that if the issue is having someone in the building to help with requests on Fridays, he would volunteer to alternate a day and work on Fridays for the next six months if it meant the other employees would not need to.
"You say there's nobody here to be here on Friday? I'll be here Friday," he said. "I'll be here every Friday for the next six months."
Huntley said, "No. I don't think so."
Ehrenburg also said that under the four-day work week, each employee ends up donating an hour per day which they are not paid for, and that when the borough switched to the four-day work week in 2009, it was projected to have gained 572 hours of donated time by 11 employees.
Mayor Jonathan Dunleavy suggested the council consider possibly having a four-day work week in the summer and five-day work week the rest of the year. Dunleavy said that by keeping the contracts that are in place, the borough would not be spending any additional money, but by changing the contracts or by taking away the contracts and therefore asking employees to work five days instead of four, there could be some legal reaction from the employees, as well as a potential decrease in morale.
Dunleavy also pointed out that the borough will have already spent money on utilizing Semeraro's legal practice's opinion outside of the work he is contracted to do for the borough, which is at a cost of $150 per hour (Semeraro said he will not be sure until the end of the month how many hours have been spent researching this issue).
Resident Carla Dewitt said it's not such a terrible thing that the council is taking a closer look at the contracts, and that she feels there should be less discussion about the costs associated with paying the borough attorney to look into the issue.
"We hire an attorney to protect us from interest in our town that may not be in our best interest," she said. Dewitt recommended possibly asking the public to vote either for or against the five-day week on a ballot.
But Councilman Glenn Schiffman said that this issue is about bringing the borough up to legal standards.
"There's certain laws that have to be upheld," he said. "We can't just make up anything we want."
Councilwoman Linda Shortman said, "Sometimes you have to spend money to fight for what's right." Shortman said that she would like to be able to go to Borough Hall on Fridays.
Toward the end of the discussion, McCarthy said that she, personally, wanted to have the discussion be made public because she had been hearing from the council that they wanted to be transparent and open, but that she was "very uncomfortable being here."
The council is able to take action on the five-day work week and contracts at its next meeting on April 12.