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Delayed days off: Commissioners adjust vacation hours cap for highway employees

A county snow blower removes snow from a road in February. County highway employees have been putting in extra hours to keep roads clean in 2019. File photo/Stevens County Times

The first two months of the winter of 2019 has postponed some vacations for employees in the Stevens County Highway Department, county coordinator Becky Young aid at the March 5 county commissioners meeting.

The county board and the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees agreed to suspend the 250 accrued vacation hours cap to give employees more time to take vacation days. The memorandum of understanding approved by the commissioners allows employees to continue to earn vacation hours in excess of 250 without losing them if they don't use them. Highway department employees now have until Dec. 31 of this year to use those excess earned vacation hours. Fourteen employees are impacted by the cap removal.

"If they don't use by Dec. 31, it goes away?" Commissioner Bob Kopitzke asked before the vote.

"Yes," Young said.

In a related discussion, commissioners asked Young and county highway engineer Todd Larson to advertise for a short list of people who'd be willing to work for the county on a part-time as needed basis.

Commissioner Donny Wohlers said with construction companies located in the area, the county may have a chance to hire someone on a temporary/as-needed basis for situations such as snow removal.

It's tough to deny a person a planned vacation or day off, Wohlers said.

It's not just for snow removal because what happens if an employee is impacted by a long-term illness, Wohlers asked.

Young said she and Larson were discussing the need for a short list of fill-in help prior the March 5 meeting.

Larson said a short list has been tried in other counties. "Some have had no luck. Plowing snow is an acquired taste," he said.

Larson hasn't had any luck with retired highway department employees. "No one wants to come back because they are sick of plowing snow," Larson said.

Young said the benefit of a short list of fill-in employees is not only to have employees who can fill hours but it can also reduce overtime.

Highway department employees have been putting 12 to 24 hours of overtime in some weeks because of the need to plow snow, Larson said.

County board chairwoman Jeanne Larson said she support to advertise for a short list of temporary workers but she wanted Larson to check with highway department employees first. The employees have been willing to work the long hours and their thoughts should be considered, she said.