City workers adjust to uncertainties with employment

Furloughed employees have reduced hours but maintain benefits; library union negotiated cut backs



Joanna Bailey, director of Neill Public Library, said none of the library employees have been laid off, but the majority have been furloughed.

BRADLEY GAMBLE, Evergreen reporter

Due to COVID-19 shutdowns, many staff members working for the City of Pullman have been furloughed until further notice. Furloughed employees work reduced hours but maintain benefits.

Joanna Bailey, director of Neill Public Library, said 25 out of 28 library employees have been furloughed, but none have been laid off.

Bailey said she appreciates what the city has done for employees knowing that the cutbacks were coming.

“They have really been trying to put the employee first and make the best out of a tough situation,” she said. “They are furloughed and all of them have unemployment accounts, they are receiving benefits, and the ones who are in positions eligible for insurance are receiving city insurance.”

While a majority of the library staff is unable to work due to the library building being closed, employees of the parks and recreation department have been able to partially return to their jobs. 

Pullman Parks Superintendent Alan Davis said the full-time staff for parks, facilities and recreation were cut from March 23 through April 13. However, they have been brought back to mow and improve trees downtown since the city reopening.

“Our staff is working between 24 and 32 hours a week depending on what we have to get done,” he said. “Everybody retains their job and continues to work, week after week.”

Through a shared work program, full-time city employees who volunteer to be furloughed receive unemployment checks for the hours they miss, Davis said. Part-time employees are also eligible for unemployment checks but are not eligible for receiving insurance from the city.

The program was discussed with members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the union that represents library staff, in order to negotiate the option to furlough employees.

Dan Owens, adult services librarian and shop steward for the union, said the general idea for the furlough was to maintain employee benefits.

“The furlough isn’t what anyone wants, but it allowed our union members and the rest of the staff to maintain their health benefits, which was the most important thing,” he said.

Davis said the alternative to furloughs would have been layoffs, which would not allow employees to maintain health benefits.

The furlough is not a part of the union contract, but the city was willing to negotiate terms with the union to furlough staff rather than lay off employees.

Owens said an issue with the furlough discussions was whether employees would have to use their sick hours or vacation hours. It was decided that employees would be able to retain those hours.

“Some employees don’t want to come back to work with no sick time or vacation time,” he said. “So that was another thing the furlough allowed.”

Owens said that the union and the city administration will continue to discuss furlough terms if a second wave of COVID-19 cases hit the county.