A grievance addressing problems with new health insurance policies was filed with the Mobile County Commission today on behalf of 600 employees.
In response to faxes and emails circulating through multiple departments, a handful of employees met at the Mobile County Personnel Office Thursday afternoon – some of whom spoke directly with Personnel Director Donald Dees.
“We’ve met with the Personnel Board, and Mr. Dees has put us on the right track to where we can resolve this issue with the County Commission,” Lt. Richard Cayton with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office said. “We’re forging ahead on this decision to file a grievance against the county.”
Cayton, one of several MCSO employees to attend the impromptu meeting, said the Commissioners say, “they hear us clear and loud, but no one is speaking back.”
He added that the meeting with the personnel board was necessary to make sure the employees took the correct steps required to file a grievance against the county.
Many of Cayton’s fellow employees at the MCSO, including Sheriff Sam Cochran, voiced opposition to the new insurance plan at a meeting hosted by the County Commission last month. The new insurance plan took effect in April.
The majority of employee concerns dealt with the rising costs of prescription medicines, especially for retired employees of Mobile County.
“The retirees are effected heavily,” MCSO Lt. Paul Burch said. “Just their insurance premiums are almost $800 dollars a month. Then you tack on the medications – which when you’re older you have a lot of medications – and that’s almost their entire check.”
Burch said the new model isn’t sustainable, and added the medical co-pay for county retirees used to be minimal. Burch also speculated as to why the costs for employees have increased under the new plan.
“What we feel like they’re trying to do is to keep you employed until such a time when you can go on Medicare,” he said. “That way they’re not paying insurance for retirees.”
Other employees were expected to attend the impromptu meeting at the personnel board, but depending on who you ask, were either “threated” or “advised” not to.
Lagniappe received reports of similar emails circulating through the county Public Works Department earlier in the week. However, none of the department’s employees were at the meeting with the personnel board.
An Aug. 20 email sent to employees from Engineering Manager Neal Howard was given to the members of press today at the meeting. The email called the employees’ issue with the new insurance plan “not grievable.”
“It has come to my attention that there is a fax being circulated that asks for all Mobile County employees to attend a meeting tomorrow at the Personnel Board office,” Howard’s email reads. “Please explain (to anyone attending) that the filing of a grievance by a county employee is to be performed on their own time. In that regard, our advice shall be that they not attend this meeting. However, if they do choose to attend they need to take their own personal time to do so.”
Cayton suggested that such a “threat” violates the personnel board’s own policies – specifically a rule which states, “In the presentation of grievances, grievants are assured of freedom from restraint, interference, discrimination or reprisal.”
Following the meeting, some of the employees traveled together to Government Plaza to officially present the grievance to the county’s administration. However, the commissioners and County Administrator John Pafenbach were out of the office for an Association of County Commissions of Alabama (ACCA) conference in Gulf Shores.
The grievance was given to a member of the human resources department instead.
District 3 Commissioner Jerry Carl said the Commission was already “doing its best” to address the issue.
“Whatever the employees did today, I’m sure they did it in good conscience, but it’s not going to affect what we do in one way or another,” Carl said. “We’ve still got everyone’s future in mind, and we’re putting together a package everyone will be happy with. Once we get through the budget process, I truly believe everyone is going to be pleased with the outcome.”
Carl did say budget preparations were far from finished. During a recent commission meeting, he and commission President Connie Hudson both stated that salary increases for county employees were a “top priority” in this year’s budget process.
As the employees were leaving the personnel board, Burch was quick to say that employees are committed to fixing the issue.
“This isn’t going away,” he said. “If we don’t get any relief, we’ll keep going to the next step until we get what we’re looking for.”