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Public works employees ask for meeting with commissioners

When it came time for items from the floor at Tuesday's Douglas County Board meeting, Joe Zunker took center stage and addressed the commissioners.

Zunker, a 28-year employee of Douglas County Public Works in the survey division and a E-911 coordinator for the county, spoke on behalf of the Douglas County Public Works council, reading a letter to the county commissioners regarding health insurance, work schedules and other issues.

Insurance issues

He explained to the commissioners that last fall, county employees were offered a new health insurance plan by Prime Health and had to select either a family or single plan. There were four deductible levels with varying HSA amounts.

When all public works employees signed up within the required time frame, Zunker said that created an agreement between the county and the employees.

During this time, he said they were unaware of another employee group that bypassed Prime Health, which Zunker believed was the only plan offered, and agreed to a much less expensive public employee plan called PEIPS.

"Because of this turn of events, the county decided to change the Prime Health agreement to match the PEIPS numbers even though the enrollment was closed and finalized," said Zunker. "Everyone who enrolled made choices based on the original Prime Health numbers provided, and then the numbers were changed."

Since the original open enrollment agreement is currently only being honored for non-union employees, Zunker said that the public works employees are asking the board to correct the situation and honor the insurance that was already agreed upon.

Work schedule

During the 2016 negotiations, Zunker said public works employees agreed to take a half-percent reduction in their raise in order to keep a "normal five-day, Monday through Friday, 40-hour work week in place."

"An agreement like this is called a quid pro quo, which is giving something to receive something," Zunker said.

In December 2017, Zunker said the county again proposed making changes to the normal five-day work week. In May, Zunker said the county proposed "the basic work schedule for all personnel should be comprised of 40 hours per week, for 52 weeks" and that "all hours in excess of 40 hours in a week shall be paid time and a half."

"What this is saying is that we will be expected to work Sunday through Saturday, a seven-day work week or until we get 40 hours. All language regarding overtime on weekends or holidays was removed," said Zunker. "The intent of the language is to send employees home at any time; leaving them on-call 24/7 to finish out a 40-hour work week."

This time the public works group offered to take a 1 percent reduction in their raises to keep the normal work week, he said.

"Public works employees respectfully request to meet with all five commissioners to have an open conversation regarding this issue an the future intentions for public works," Zunker said to the commissioners.

He stated that the public works department had employees leave their jobs to work for other counties that "put a high value on its investment in their workforce and longtime employees to keep their county running smoothly." He said the employees take with them the county's investment of time, money and training.

"Employees who came here with the promise of a career are fed up with the current toxic work environment and go elsewhere," Zunker said. "Douglas County is having a morale crisis and is quickly turning into a training county."

He made one last suggestion to the county commissioners: to see what they can learn by reading the exit interviews of those who have recently left.

The commissioners thanked him, but none offered any comments or feedback before going into closed session.

Commissioners contacted

All five commissioners — Owen Miller, Jim Stratton, Jerry Rapp, Charlie Meyer and Keith Englund — were contacted after the meeting.

While none of them offered any comments or replies to Zunker's request for a meeting between the commissioners and public works employees, Rapp said, "I don't have anything in particular to say, but there is information out there that needs to come to the forefront."

Meyer didn't want to reply until an agreement is made because the county is currently in negotiations with the public works group.

Because of data privacy, Englund said commissioners aren't supposed to say anything, which he feels is what's wrong.

"There is a lack of communication between everyone," he said.

Miller, who is chairman of the board, had no comment. When pressed on whether the board would meet with the employees group, he said, "We can't."

He explained that any union contracts have to be negotiated between the union representative and the person appointed by the commissioners, who is Heather Schlangen, Douglas County coordinator.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in more than 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

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