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Precedent Says Town Should Pay Employees On Furlough

by Connie Sartini
Per the Select Board’s request, Town Manager Mark Haddad reviewed the Town’s Union Contracts to address a total shut down or a partial shutdown of Town Services and how it will impact employee pay.
     He advised, “Our contracts do not address this issue directly. Therefore, we have to rely on past practice and precedent.”
Haddad contacted Town Counsel and received the following direction. Counsel Paul Derensis wrote: 
     “As you have advised that your past practice has been to pay employees when the town closes for emergencies and as it is clear that COVID-19 and the measures being taken at the local, state and federal levels to limit the spread and transmission of the virus among the public has led both the state, and federal government to declare states of emergencies with respect to the town’s unionized employees, G.L. 150E Sect. 6 requires employers to bargain with union employees over mandatory subjects of bargaining such as wages, hours, and terms of conditions of employment. Unless the town has met with the bargaining groups and negotiated to resolution or impasse as to continued compensation with the town, effectively barring them from working, the town should not make a unilateral change to the practice and should pay the employees who are ordered to stay out of the workplace, including during the shutdown even if due to a state or federal emergency.”
     Haddad advised the Board that employees are working remotely. During this time, healthcare enrollment is being handled by Human Resources, payrolls must be processed, monitoring of bills, and payments coming in for taxes. In addition, the Town Clerk’s office is monitoring email and answering questions from residents.
     The remotely processed payroll out of the Treasurer’s office also includes any Police Dept., Fire Dept, and DPW overtime costs. The warrants will be signed by Haddad and Select Board member John Giger.
     He stressed that the Council on Aging is working at the Center to ensure the continuation of Meals on Wheels, and providing rides for medicine and groceries.
     The Library Director Vanessa Abramham has put a plan in place for employees to work from home conducting research on a number of projects under discussion by the Library. The staff will answer phone calls and emails from 10a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, to help patrons use the Library e-resources.
     Haddad advised that the aides for state representatives, including Senator Kennedy’s office staff, was being paid. Based on this, Haddad recommended that employees continue to be paid.
     He asked the Board to support paying employees for the next two weeks. Chairman Alison Manugian and member John Reilly were in support of this plan.
     Selectman Degen also said he supported this for the next two weeks but was concerned if this lasts two months or more. “We need a level playing field on how to handle employees.” Member Pine also said she was okay with this plan for the next two weeks.
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