Cheryl Powell and Stephanie Warsmith
Beacon Journal staff writers
Two unions representing employees of the Akron Health Department are warning that a merger with the Summit County Health District will cause financial headaches for some workers.
But the leader of the county health district insists that steps are being taken to make sure all employees are treated equitably after the two agencies consolidate, effective Jan. 1.
Akron City Council members heard Monday night from the union presidents, who said employees are concerned about their jobs, salaries and benefits when they become employees of the county health district.
''If it's not a consolidation, it's a takeover,'' said Chuck Victor, president of the Civil Service Personnel Association, which represents about 60 of the Akron Health Department's 115 employees. ''We're giving things away.''
He urged council members to investigate and maintain oversight of the consolidation.
Jeannine Jones, president of the Akron Nurses Association, which represents 16 health department nurses, said she told her members they would have jobs and wouldn't take a financial hit.
''Now, 90 days before, we are finding out that's not the case,'' she said. ''My faith has been shaken.''
In an interview before the meeting, Summit County Health Commissioner Gene Nixon said there have been months of planning to make sure all employees are treated fairly.
''I think, in the end, the salary structure we've given everybody is extremely equitable and fair,'' he said. ''I think part of the anxiety on the side of the Akron employees which I totally empathize with is not knowing.''
Akron employees will maintain their seniority and earn the same amount as Summit County Health District workers in similar positions with equivalent tenure, Nixon said.
The Summit health district employs 120 workers.
Victor, who previously had spoken to the council in favor of the consolidation, said the union is concerned that employees have to interview for jobs when they were told everyone would be guaranteed a spot. He said they also are worried about being under a probationary period, just like new employees, when many have 25 to 30 years' experience.
Tom Quade, interim Akron Health Commissioner, said Akron Health Department employees in good standing will be offered jobs.
''There are no issues about whether they will have jobs,'' he said.
The individual meetings with Akron employers during the next couple of weeks aren't job interviews, Nixon said.
''Our board decided to waive the posting and interview process,'' he said. ''This is a one-on-one opportunity to be presented the job offer and review it and consider it.''
Victor said a feasibility report on the merger said ''a few'' employees' salaries might be adjusted. Instead, he said, the union recently learned that 43 percent of its members could see their salaries decrease. The rest could get increases.
Jones said most of the nurses stand to lose, with 11 expected to see their salaries drop. The losses are expected to range from $182 to $4,200 a year.
Nixon acknowledged some Akron employees might end up making slightly less, largely because the Summit County Health District has a 35-hour work, compared with a 40-hour week for the city.
''There had to be a balance,'' Nixon said. ''We couldn't keep everybody at the current pay status, because they're working less hours.''
Overall, he said, most city employees will see little change to their pay after the merger.
''Most swings are within single percentages one way or another 1 or 2 percent,'' he said.
Councilman Ken Jones said he found the information from Victor and Jones ''shocking.''
''I don't recall voting on something that was going to be that drastic to these employees,'' he said. ''We need to do something.''
Councilman Jeff Fusco said he thinks the council should give city and county officials 30 days to iron out the details and answer the concerns the two unions have raised.
Council President Marco Sommerville said he doesn't want to wait 30 days to get answers. He said he and Mayor Don Plusquellic talked Monday about the employees' concerns and will look into them.
''We will try to get this resolved as quickly as possible,'' he said.
Sharon Musgrave, who has been a nurse for 29 years, including more than 17 years with the Akron Health Department, said she understands she would be making less and paying much more for health insurance with the consolidation. She said this ''was not what was presented'' to employees.
Musgrave said after the council meeting that she is encouraged city leaders will intervene.
''This has given me a lot of hope,'' she said.