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VIDEO: Bloomingdale Council Considers 5-Day Work Week

Borough attorney said employee contracts are 'unenforceable.'

The  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.

linda shortman March 30, 2011 at 02:19 PM
Hi Ariana, Nice job again. it's a tough subject for us. The democrat majority is who left us with these contracts, and they were told they were unenforceable. I'm still asking why. The borough hours would return to 8 to 4:30, not 4. I think we should explore staying open one night. it seems to work well in Wayne. Just like we know now that we can't do business on Friday, residents will know they have a night we're open too. Thanks for listening. Linda
Ariana Cohn-Sheehan (Editor) March 30, 2011 at 02:48 PM
Hi Linda, I'll make the correction to the time, thanks!
Jon Dunleavy March 30, 2011 at 09:50 PM
Ariana, Thank you for covering our Council meetings. To set the record straight, if the Council Majority chooses to go back to a five day work week the hours will be 8:30-4:30. These were the hours of operation prior to the 4 day work week. Furthermore, I believe it is a complete waste of time and taxpayers money to challenge this contract. The employees will obviously fight the decision. Not only will this cost a considerable amount of money in litigation, which the Borough cannot afford, it will cause a terrible divide with the Council and the town employees. All this towards what end? The contract resulted in no additional financial obligations to the Borough. Why chase something that is not going to save the Borough any money. If the issue is truly about the 5 day work week then my goal is to come to an agreement with the Council and the employees to avoid this costly process, without attempting to void the contract. This will avoid costly legal expenses. I strongly believe that a four day work week with extended hour until 6pm better serves our Borough's residents. I also would ask my Council colleagues to have discussions with the employees on the 4 day work week and the benefits. As it is the employees who deal with the public on a day to day basis, so their opinion on what is best for the Borough needs to be considered. Not one council person as reached out to these employees for thier opinion on the matter. Mayor Jon Dunleavy
Theresa Merino March 30, 2011 at 11:42 PM
I completely agree with Mayor Dunleavy. This is a fight that will cost us much more than we will gain. I have never had an issue with the town offices being closed on a Friday. My understanding is that it was done to help keep down energy costs and keep us "green". I like that! Just an aside, was Council President Huntley a member of the council when the 4 day work week was voted in? If so, how did she vote? I'm sure it is a public record... I'll have to look into it... Thanks Ariana for keep us all up-to-date! Great video! Theresa Merino, Bloomingdale homeowner
Elizabeth Campoli March 31, 2011 at 12:27 AM
I also agree with Mayor Dunleavy, and I truly feel that Linda Huntley is trying to make all these changes, only because she can with the number of democrats to the number of republicans. If its not broke don't fix it, what would be the reason to go back to a five day work week? I encourage any and all of the citizens of Bloomingdale to attend the town council meetings to see whats going on for themselves. Its amazing to see how childish some of the council people act.
Resident March 31, 2011 at 03:29 PM
Has anyone thought of looking into how many times residents or others utilize those extra hours? Are employees working or are they just waiting for something to do?
Mr. Tom Fox April 03, 2011 at 03:45 PM
I like the fact that we as residents can come to Boro hall up to 6:00 p.m. four days a week. The LARGE majority of us residents work out of town and we can not get thru the traffic jam caused by the three Riverdale lights (never in cync) and then the daily afternoon crawl up to and through the Hamburg Tpke. / Union Ave. light. Also, wasn't one of the reasons to close the boro hall on Fridays to save the boro money by closing the offices ie. lights off -heat down etc.etc. one day a week? My vote for more than one reason is to keep the hours the way they are... T. Fox Bloomingdale resident

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