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Union official: York County treating employees well during pandemic

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

The York County government has refused to share the details of its sick leave policies for COVID-19 since the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act expired Dec. 31, but at least one union said the county is making a good-faith effort to meet employees' needs.

Service Employees Union International Local 668 represents county employees who work in human services such as the Area Agency on Aging, the York/Adams Drugs and Alcohol Commission, the York/Adams MH-IDD program and the office of Children, Youth and Families.

"They have been really good about keeping people safe within the office," said Erik Strobl, business agent for SEIU Local 668.

Among the county employees Strobl represents, he said, the county has a rotating in-person attendance policy for work. Only a certain number of employees are working at the offices staffed by SEIU members on any given day to allow for social distancing, Strobl said.

York County Administrative Center in York City, Wednesday, June 17, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

When workers represented by SEIU Local 668 have tested positive for COVID-19, Strobl said, the union has been able to work with supervisors and department heads to allow those employees to continue to work remotely.

Strobl declined to comment on specific policies for COVID-19 sick leave, but he said that, compared with other county governments he deals with, York County has worked well with SEIU.

York County Commissioner Doug Hoke said he couldn't get into the specifics of the county's human resources policies but, speaking generally, said the county does its best for the employees.

"We want to make sure we follow the rules and the laws and make sure everyone is treated equitably and fairly, whether they’re considered essential workers, union or non-union," Hoke said.

The issue of paid and unpaid emergency sick leave came to the fore in York County in December, when representatives from Teamsters Local 776 lambasted the York County Board of Commissioners over a lack of paid sick leave for employees at York County Prison.

Tim Turek, then-business agent for Local 776, said the county was incentivizing people to come to work sick and spread the virus to others.

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Teamsters Local 776 union representative Tim Turek during an interview in Spring Garden Township, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. Teamsters Local 776 represents employees at York County Prison and York County Youth Development Center. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Corrections officers and other employees at York County Prison who contract COVID-19 are required to use their accrued paid time off, including vacation days, if they have to miss work because they're sick.

If they run out of paid time off before they recover from the virus, prison employees can stay home from work without being penalized, but they won't be paid for those extra days off.

The federal Families First Coronavirus Relief Act provided up to two weeks of emergency paid sick leave to some qualifying county employees last year, but those considered "emergency responders," such as corrections officers, 911 operators, public health officials and child welfare workers, were not covered.

Since the FFCRA expired Dec. 31, The York Dispatch has tried to find out whether all York County employees are now required to use their allotted paid time off if they become sick with COVID-19+ and then go without pay if they run out of paid time off.

But county officials will not provide details about current policies, stating only that employees are subject to those policies or, if they are part of union, subject to the guidelines outlined in their bargaining contract.

York County Prison Monday, Jun3 10, 2019. Bill Kalina photo

The York Dispatch submitted a Right to Know request for the county's sick leave policies and is waiting for a response.

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania doesn't have a universal recommendation for how county officials should handle sick leave for COVID-19 because every county is different, spokesperson Ken Kroski said in an email.

"Each county considers its own HR practices, in consultation with its solicitor, that best fit its local needs," he said.

The protocol for the private sector is much the same, said Alex Halper, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

The policies in each business or industry will differ based on a company's size, location and internal structure, he said.

"Employers are always balancing trying to take care of their folks and make sure that they’re accommodated, but also managing a workplace," Halper said, "and that is obviously considerably more challenging these days."

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