Carbon County has reached an agreement with two unions at Weatherwood, the Carbon County Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Weatherly, in regard to employees who will be separated from the county's services at the end of the month.
During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board voted unanimously to approve changes to the bargaining agreements between the county and AFSCME, AFL-CIO, District Council 87 and Local 2483; and OPEIU Healthcare, Pennsylvania Local 112, for employees' personal, vacation and sick days after Carbon finalizes the sale of the nursing home with Guardian Elder Care of Brockway. The sale and transfer of ownership is expected to take place on June 30.
Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman, explained that the agreement outlines payout costs associated with personal, vacation time and sick days.
In regard to vacation time, O'Gurek said employees who are hired by Guardian will have the vacation time honored by the new owners at the rate of pay the employee was receiving from Carbon County. This cost will be at the county's expense.
He added that next year, employees will be awarded vacation time based on the years of service with the county, not under Guardian's ownership.
Those not hired by Guardian or who choose not to accept employment at the nursing home will receive a check from the county for their unused earned vacation time within 30 days of the sale.
In regard to personal days, all unused days will be paid by the county within 30 days of the time of closing, O'Gurek stated.
In regard to sick days that were accrued during the employee's time of service, O'Gurek said that all employees who have accumulations in place will be allowed to carry 10 days over when Guardian takes ownership. These days will be paid for by the county through Guardian.
The remaining sick days, up to 30 days, will be paid out at 75 percent of the employee's current rate. Anything over 30 days will then be paid out at 50 percent. This will also be paid by the county.
For example, O'Gurek said that if an employee has 50 sick days accrued at the time of the sale, that employee could carry over 10 days and get reimbursed for the remaining 40 days. Thirty of those days would be reimbursed at 75 percent of the employee's daily wage; while 10 of those days would be at 50 percent of the daily wage.
This reimbursement agreement is also in place for employees not hired or choose not to continue employment under Guardian.
O'Gurek explained that the sick day agreement alone will cost the county a significant amount of money because of the number of days employees accumulated.
"It's going to cost the county somewhere in the neighborhood of $400,000 for sick time payout, but we think that's fair," he said. "The three commissioners believe that the (original) contract allowed for employees retiring to buy back those sick days up to a maximum of 90 days at 50 percent. We believe since we are the party doing the separating of employment, that we owe it to the employees who reserved those days under our watch and didn't have a chance to buy them back at the time of retirement."
These agreements are one of the many loose ends the county is trying to tie up before the sale becomes official at the end of the month. The commissioners have continuously stated that they want to help make the transition as smooth as possible for all parties involved.
In a related Weatherwood matter, county controller Robert Crampsie, who also is the secretary for the county retirement board, announced Weatherwood's active member retirement options during the monthly meeting of the retirement board on Thursday.
He noted that there are 185 active members at Weatherwood who will be leaving county service at the end of the month.
Their options, based on years of service, include taking a refund of their contributions, vesting, taking early retirement at a reduced rate, or taking a normal retirement benefit.
Crampsie broke down the active members into five categories.
Of the 185 members, 49 employees have less than five years of service. The options they have include taking an immediate refund of their contributions, or rolling over their contributions.
Crampsie said this will cost the county retirement fund $175,000, due to paying out the refunds.
A total of 38 employees have more than five years of service but less than eight years. They have the option to vest their contributions and wait until normal retirement age to take it; or take a refund.
Forty-six employees have more than eight years of service but less than 20 years. This category, Crampsie said, is specific to anyone who is involuntarily let go from county service.
"According to the county pension law, if you're an active member and you're involuntarily separated from county service and you have more than eight years of service, you are entitled to immediate monthly benefits," he said. "So anyone that has more than eight years of service with Carbon County is entitled to an immediate monthly benefit."
He added that this benefit can be taken at any time, whether it be the day of the sale or 10 years down the road. The other option this category has is to vest their contribution and wait until normal retirement age.
Twenty-two employees, Crampsie continued, have more than 20 years of service but are not yet at the age of 55. This group has the option to take early retirement at a reduced rate, or vest their contributions.
Thirty employees are at normal retirement age and can either take their full retirement benefit or continue working.
Crampsie said that his department will be providing this information to all Weatherwood employees so that they can make an informed decision on what they would like to do.
The sale of Weatherwood became a reality on March 25, when the commissioners announced that Guardian Elder Care would be the company purchasing Weatherwood at a price of $11,050,000.
Early this year, Carbon County commissioners were forced to make the decision to sell the nursing home after a financial analysis was completed at the end of 2009. The analysis showed that the home, which is operating on a $3 million deficit, would continue to cost the county millions unless changes were made.
The commissioners have continually stressed that making the decision to sell Weatherwood was not one they wanted to make, but the county could not afford to continue to lose $8,200 a day at the facility.