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County Highway Committee decides to return to previous billing system

By Kathleen McGwin
The Marquette County Highway Committee met last week Tuesday after the joint meeting of the Executive/Finance and Highway Committee the previous week where highway employees expressed their unhappiness with the change in overtime hours and Town board members expressed displeasure with a proposed new billing system.

At the Highway Committee meeting, they voted to return to billing the Towns as they have been in the past. Overtime changes are not under the purview of the Highway Committee, but are the responsibility of Executive/Finance who makes recommendations to the full Board. No change in how overtime is paid for workers was made or considered.

In a phone interview before the Highway meeting and after the joint meeting, Marv Groskreutz, member of the County Board and the Highway Committee, clarified his concerns. He said at the joint committee meeting, he was trying to make a motion to take the entire system back to what it was before January 1 until it is field tested so that Towns and the County know if it really will save them money. Second, he said he is very concerned that Towns cannot understand the present billing sent to them by the Highway Department and finally, he said that he believes that the change will cause an increase in clerical time and expense in the office that will outweigh any savings.

Brent Miller said that Town of Harris Chair Glen Thalacker asked for a meeting to discuss how the billing to Towns can be made more understandable. That meeting will take place soon. Returning to the old billing system does not solve the problems faced by Brenda Janke, Highway Department Account Clerk, who said at last week’s meeting that she came in at 3 AM on the Monday of payroll and still had not been able to input all the hours for the 26 Highway Department workers by noon that day. She said she would be meeting with the workers to discuss how their time can be recorded and turned in for her to input hours.

The change to paying overtime over 40 hours a week from paying for over 8 hours a day requires Janke to wait until the end of the pay period to input hours with the present payroll system. Highway workers have multiple conditions that they record, some required by the State. For instance, they must record equipment run time, equipment down time, type of work like brushing, plowing, mowing, and what roads they were working on—State Highway, County Road, or Town Road.

Highway worker Jayson Peschel asked if the committee would consider returning to paying overtime over 8 hours a day. He was told that that the Highway Committee is not where that is determined. The new employee policy manual was approved by the County Board in a 15 to 2 vote. The manual is where the change in overtime was made. Peschel was stopped from reading a letter to the Board of Supervisors at the joint meeting on January 19 and was told he could not do so because it was bargaining.

After the Highway meeting, during a call made to Peschel by this reporter, the worker, who has been with the highway department for 12 1/2 years, said that he did not present the letter at the joint meeting as bargaining. He is no longer a union member and he said that workers are confused about how to express their concerns with the changes that have been made.

“We did not mean for the letter to be bargaining and did not mean for it to be seen as rude or controversial,” he said. “It’s just that we don’t know how we should express these concerns now.”

Nineteen of the 26 highway employees signed the letter. Peschel said that they did not ask the five newly hired workers to sign unless they wanted to, because they felt they are on six months’ probation and were not a part of the changes. “We didn’t want to pressure them,” Peschel said.

Peschel, who was called in this Sunday to work, said that highway employees take their work seriously and want to be available and ready to work during snowstorms, wind storms and other conditions. Workers are not paid to be available for work, he said, but they plan ahead, watch the weather, and know that they must at times limit their off work activities in order to be available.
“Like on New Year’s Eve,” he said. “We all have CDLs (Commercial Drivers’ License) and we know we cannot have alcohol if we might get called in. So we don’t go out in case there is a snow storm.”

The letter that was sent to all County Board members said, in part, “The employees are all very dedicated to their jobs and are willing to give up family time, reschedule events, and even come in to work on a pre-approved vacation to take care of a road emergency at a moment’s notice form the Highway Commissioner or Patrol Superintendent.”

It asked for the County Board to reinstate Article 18, which gave overtime for work over 8 hours a day and gave time and a half for weekend hours worked. The change gives overtime for over 40 hours a week worked so that if a worker has a vacation day or a sick day during the week and is called in on another day, including a weekend, no overtime compensation is paid until actual hours worked is in excess of 40 hours. A worker could have two vacation days during the week and called in on the weekend and would earn straight time.

“We want to respond and come in and we do,” said Peschel, “but it’s not much incentive to be ready to work and come in when called on at 2 in the morning on a weekend when you may have no extra pay.”

Peschel said that workers respond and come in “99% of the time.” He said that everyone’s plow beat is 8 hours long and if someone doesn’t come in, he knows that the other worker will have to work extra hours to cover his beat and that the quality of service goes down.

“We all knew we were going to have to pay towards our health care and pension,” he said. “We didn’t know until the manual came out that this change was going to happen.”