Monterey County’s lawyer denies responsibility for payroll mess

Pictured from left – Nick Diaz (NMC), Max Stone (DSES), Anne Yen (our SEIU Attorney), and Don Clark (911) on the day of the arbitration hearing.

Update – Oct. 1, 2012

On Friday, September 28, County Auditor Mike Miller sent an e-mail to various department managers requesting they begin disciplining employees for not submitting timecards on time. SEIU is unaware of any county policy that gives managers authority to impose discipline for late timecards, and we have conveyed that fact to Miller. SEIU also put Miller on notice that we view his request to discipline SEIU members as retaliation for taking our grievances against him to a neutral arbitrator (click here to view a copy of our letter). The true irony in all this is Miller wants to discipline employees for late timecards, but he sees no problem letting employees wait over two years for wages he owes them. Who really deserves to be disciplined?

SEIU asks arbitrator to order back pay with interest

Members from various SEIU 521 bargaining units testified at an arbitration hearing Sept. 25 that they – and hundreds of other members – have been short-changed on overtime wages and other special pay practices as a result of the Monterey County Auditor’s failed implementation of the Advantage payroll system.

In September 2010, SEIU members filed four grievances against Monterey County to protest the Auditor’s unwillingness to comply with our labor contracts by not including vacation, holiday and comp time hours in the calculation of overtime pay, which resulted in lower paychecks for most employees.

Shortly thereafter, SEIU signed agreements with Monterey County to restore those pay practices and reimburse employees for lost wages. Although it took the Auditor over a year to reconfigure his payroll system to pay our members correctly, the lost wages owed to our members still have not been paid.

On Sept. 25, we finally got to take our case to a neutral arbitrator. In a last-ditch effort to stop SEIU from arbitrating our grievances, the County’s lawyer claimed the grievances had already been settled, despite the fact that the County specifically agreed to keep our grievances active until every SEIU member receives the wages they are owed. Not once has the County asserted our grievances were settled and can no longer be arbitrated. Even the arbitrator shared his belief that the County’s position had the appearance of an “eleventh hour” legal maneuver.

Assistant Auditor Al Friedrich testified he was actually aware of the new overtime calculation method before the payroll system went live. When asked why he would not have shared that critical information with union representatives beforehand, he basically said that is not his job, and he shifted blame to the County’s Labor Relations department.

As the County’s arguments got even more creative, County Counsel actually had the audacity to assert that nothing they did was wrong, and all the pay practices SEIU insisted on restoring were merely “concessions” that we demanded, which the County fell for, according to their attorney, “hook, line and sinker.”

SEIU 521 members have been extremely patient, considering the financial hardship many of us have had to endure. For two years, we have worked with the County in good faith to make sure our members are paid correctly. But their lawyer’s blatant – and frankly, insulting – mischaracterization of our efforts has strained our labor-management relationship.

Next steps: We are seeking an order from the arbitrator for back pay with compensatory interest, and a firm deadline for repayment. A final decision from the arbitrator will be forthcoming in the months ahead. Stay tuned as we continue the fight.

Take action: Call the U.S. Department of Labor, at (408) 291-7730. You have the right to file individual wage claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act. SEIU 521 cannot represent you in that process, but we are informing you of this option, if you choose to pursue it.

What members are saying

“It’s been over two years. People deserve to be paid correctly for the services they provide the County. It’s time for the Auditor to be held accountable.”
Nick Diaz, Natividad Medical Center

“The flaws with the payroll system were not our fault. It was the result of poor planning and poor implementation. The County paid $22 million for a system that’s too complicated and just does not work. Almost every hourly employee has been harmed in some way.”
Don Clark, Emergency Communications

“The payroll conversion has been a catastrophe. Even though we forced the Auditor to calculate our overtime in accordance with our MOUs, we have patiently waited for our retro pay. The Auditor’s only explanation for the delay is that the system is complicated, and they need more time. But two years is long enough.”
Max Stone, Social Services

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