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Teaneck Union Says Calls to Change Four-Day Week are Politically Motivated

Town employees defend the municipal building's four-day schedule.

Unionized Teaneck employees urged township council members not to change the town’s municipal four-day workweek, saying it had improved working conditions and called a debate over their schedule politically motivated.

Members of AFSCME, which represents some town hall staffers, turned out at Tuesday night’s town council meeting after the possibility of modifying the four-day week emerged at a council candidates forum last week. Councilwoman Barbara Toffler has criticized the four-day schedule and residents have called for the municipal building to stay open on Fridays.

“The productivity has gone up instead of down, attendance is up instead of down,” said AFSCME Local 820 President Rosiland V. McLean, the zoning and planning board secretary. “The morale has increased since previous layoffs that took place in 2009.”

A schedule change would force workers to rearrange their schedules set since the four-day week was implemented in August 2009, McLean said. Employees would have to rearrange childcare and second jobs.

“It seems not to be enough that we’re working with reduced staff and asked to do more with less,” McLean told council members.

Union members, McLean said, were being thrown into a political squabble and she had not received any complaints from residents on the issue.

“Why is this issue being muddied by people’s personal issues with the manager?” McLean asked. “We are being used as political footballs.”

Curtis Caviness, a health department employee, said workers didn’t need to be in the office to do their jobs.

“We’re in the 21st century,” he said. “We have cell phones, we have emails.”

Residents at Tuesday’s meeting, however, said the issue is about service not politics.

“I’ve heard many residents complain about the four day work week,” said township resident Mildred Tucker.

Naomi Cramer, who has spoken out about the issue, suggested a skeleton staff or staggered schedule could be used to keep the town hall open on Fridays.

“I’m really sorry that some of the speakers turned this into a political issue,” Cramer said.

Calls to change the four-day workweek for town hall staffers have surfaced on and off in council meetings. The employee’s schedule became an election issue last week when it was . 

Toffler has opposed the four-day schedule, saying there was no utility cost savings. A resident survey showing support for the idea was flawed because only 11 people were polled, she said at last week’s candidate forum.

The issue should be part of union negotiations, Toffler said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Councilwoman Lizette Parker said the township manager should find a way to keep town hall open on Fridays without disturbing the union.

“I’m a public employee,” Parker said. “I believe that public services should be offered five days a week.”

Councilman Elie Y. Katz said he received only a small number of complaints about the town hall schedule. The later hours afforded by closing Fridays better fit the town’s commuters, he said.

Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin said any change would need to come through labor negotiations, not council action.

An AFSCME representative said the union would fight any return to a five-day workweek. 

 

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Judy Distler April 05, 2012 at 11:21 AM
How about four-day schools, four-day hospitals, police, fire departments? I don't understand how this happened, and I cannot comprehend how anyone - including full-time employees - can support it. It's about PEOPLE, not politics.
Grace Minazaganian April 05, 2012 at 11:47 AM
IF I were given a four day work week, I'd fight too but I an not idependantly wealthy and must therefore do as I'm told, or find another job.
Jacob April 05, 2012 at 12:31 PM
Four day schools are up to the school system, Judy. I think you retired from that system, no? You know what it's like to be a public employee. Shame on you. Four days hospitals, police & fire? - Those are all available 24 hours a day. Every day.
JeffO April 05, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Glad to see that Mayor Hameeduddin and Councilmember Toffler agree that a change would have to come through union negotiations. But for the mayor to say it can't come through council action seems to miss the point. Can't the council set priorities and instruct those involved in negotiations as to what it would like to see in future contracts? Granted, it's very difficult to get something back one you've given it away. Makes one wonder how necessary it was in the first place. At the time, I believe it was sold to the public for its purported cost savings. Can they be quantified?
Judy Distler April 05, 2012 at 03:32 PM
First and last name - plus a photo, so folks certainly know who I am. (Who are you Jack?) I think a complete ID should be a requirement for all comments, just as a name is required for a letter to the editor. Do I really think there should be four-day schools and hospitals? Please - one must be able to recognize a little sarcasm between the e-lines. Having realized that this is not to be, I am signing off, having learned a long time ago that this kind of debate is fruitless.
Noah Cohen April 05, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Outside of the labor issue, what town hall schedule would be ideal? Proponents of the four-day week cite the Tuesday night late hours as a benefit to residents. Would a 9 to 5, five day a week schedule be more convenient? Or perhaps some form of limited staffing on Fridays? Should there be a way to take care of town business via the website? JeffO -- So far, I have not come across any specific dollar amount for how much money has been saved. At Tuesday's meeting, township employees pointed to a decline in sick time, along with increased morale and efficiency. I'm interested to hear everyone's take on an ideal schedule for the municipal complex.
Noah Cohen April 05, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Edit to my last comment: Employees cited a decline in absenteeism overall, not just sick days.
JamesTS April 05, 2012 at 06:12 PM
I really dont go to the muni building enough for this to be a big problem for me. I can see how later nights are much better for all the commuters. Is this really a BIG problem for everyone?
Diane Schwarz April 05, 2012 at 06:45 PM
It's not a BIG problem, but it is a problem. I think there should be irregular hours, to cover citizen's varying schedules, plus SOME kind of coverage on Fridays! Maybe when we have Monday holidays?
JeffO April 05, 2012 at 08:18 PM
Hi Judy, Taking your comment to heart, I've added a picture of myself. As I'm sure you know and as I hope most people do, the O stands for Ostroth. As far as not using my full name, I'm not hiding from Teaneck -- I'm hiding from Google.
Barbara Ostroth April 06, 2012 at 12:18 AM
It is definitely a problem, especially for (1) the contractors and residents who need access to the building department, and (2) lawyers and realtors who need access to the tax department to verify taxes paid for closings or listings to put on the market, just two specific examples that come to mind. Every department doesn't need to be open every Friday, but these two should be on staggered schedules for at least 1/2 the day. It just restricts our respnsiveness to our residents.
Keith Kaplan April 06, 2012 at 03:26 AM
As much as I try, I simply can't get myself too worked up over this issue. I understand both sides and think that the best course of action would be to revert back to a 5 day schedule (good for people that need Fridays) with a staggered workday schedule (perhaps, on a Tuesday - at least one person comes in from 12-8 instead of 9-5). That would help out the people that need evening availability. Is there any reason we can't have the best of both options for the township's residents? As for the alleged "cost savings", the building is using the same amount of energy because it's connected to the library and "savings" that employees get by traveling one fewer day a week aren't being passed on to the township's residents.....
Art Vatsky April 06, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Oh boy, almost too much to comment on here. 1. "politically motivated"? It's about public service in government offices. Service institutions in our modern economy like banks, libraries, doctors' offices, the NJMVC, tend to add days of service, not reduce them. The public is asking for a return to normal hours. I don't think working 37.5 hours in 5 days (or 4) is considered a hardship. 2. No one disbelieves morale has improved. Fifty-two Fridays off a year is a terrific benefit. 3. Any claims for productivity should be backed up with methodology and measurements. They haven't been. 4. What is the standard work week at AFSCME? Are they open on Fridays? 5. I became opposed to the 4-day plan when I walked up to the Town Hall door on a Friday and it was locked. 6. Looking back, it seems the case for the 4-day work week was weak (A survey based on 11 people in a town of 39,000?) There was a rush to judgment. There is a cost in public inconvenience that exceeds the benefit of the extra open hours because that could have been handled by changes in employee schedule. 7. Worst are the weeks when Town Hall is open only 3 days. That happens 25% of the weeks so it is not uncommon. This slows down the approval process and is a hardship for contractors.
zizi April 06, 2012 at 12:50 PM
For the first time ever... I agree with you here Judy. I think tax payers be served properly. Also.... the town should be open for business during 9~5. Recently I found out that the town does not accept checks after 4:30PM.... what a crap...... If you are open you should serve......
Art Vatsky April 06, 2012 at 04:11 PM
We now have a 100 votes in this clearly non-scientific poll and the record shows 72% support for a 5 day week. The poll upon which the switch to 4 days was based was probably also not scientific - it certainly wasn't widely publicized - and one-tenth the size. A small sample is subject to bias. Why did the Council agree?
Barbara Ley Toffler April 06, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Thanks, Barbara. can't believe none of us has raised this issue which is one of the most important raised. Sounds like the 4-day-work -week is having a significant impact on Teaneck's economy and housing sales.
zizi April 06, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Why is it that when the town negotiate with unions they give out such absurd benefits to the unions against the interests of the residents. We should have a referendum on the next bargaining agreement so the town residents have some say in what we will pay these employees. The town should not renew the next contract unless they agree to normal business hours.
Tom Abbott April 06, 2012 at 06:45 PM
When discussed in council meetings, the switch to a four day work week was to be done on a trial basis for 6 months or a year and at the time appeared to be coming from the new manager. However, instead of being done on a trial basis it was done through a three year contract essentially making it permanent. The 11 person poll was done after it went into effect when it could no longer be changed except by renegotiating the contract. The poll results were therefore irrelevant. Being cynical, I wonder whether the 11 people polled were those who took advantage of the late hours on Tuesday. I bet they wouldn't have gotten the same results if they had the poll waiting for those showing up on Friday to find the office closed. In recent discussions, it also seems the idea did not come from the manager but rather from the council and had been set as one of the manager's goals. In fact, it was stated that the council had already asked the previous manager to enact or consider a four day work week. These discussions as well as the manager's goals do not appear to have been public. Public discussions suggest that council member Gussen was the major proponent of the change.
Judy Distler April 06, 2012 at 06:54 PM
What happened to the concept of flex time? Surely there must be employees who would prefer occasional later hours, thereby making offices accessible to those who can't get there during the day. What would be required to institute change? Is this a done deal forever, or is there room for creative thinking and a positive solution? I hope this informal dialogue will continue - as it has been, for the most part - at a level that is intelligent and respectful. Thank you, Noah, for bringing it up and for opening discussion.
JeffO April 06, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Definitely agree that any claims for productivity (and improved absentee rates) need to be backed up with methodology and measurements -- conducted independently. Intuitively, I question the notion that someone's 9th and 10th hours on the job can be just as productive as his/her 7th and 8th hours. As for measuring lower absenteeism, let's make sure days are converted into hours. Four lost 10-hour days are equivalent to five lost 8-hour days, so even if there's a 20% reduction in lost days, it could be a wash.
shimon baum April 10, 2012 at 08:32 PM
4 Day weeks please tell me we will still get the same high taxes. Teaneck we keep the services low and the taxes high.
Art Vatsky April 11, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Noah: Shimon's satire seems justified. Sometimes I feel the Council is so wrapped up in internal politics, and its pomp and ceremony, that they simply forget about the people who pay about 50 of the $65 million municipal budget. Everybody wants to see some tax cuts but not on their "favorite" town service. Technology improves productivity but its expensive, risky and a threat to existing staff. I am not happy because I don't believe the Council budgeted to give our truck technicians an actual garage to work in. This is astounding if I am right. So, Shimon, we have high taxes and still don't have a decent Town garage. Where did the money go?
zizi April 11, 2012 at 05:11 AM
I think that our town is better served if we completely outsource all services that can be outsourced and have less people on town payroll and less to qualify for pensions and raises.
Tom Abbott April 19, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Since posting the above, I have obtained copies of the pertinent township documents concerning the agreement with the unions. The original program was a 6 month pilot program. It was formally extended in April of 2010 through the end of the current contract that expired in December of 2011. Contrary to statements made to the public during council meetings, a reversion to the 5 day work week would not have required any negotiations. The agreement states, "The Township preserves its right to terminate this pilot program at any time and revert to the work schedule contained in the Parties' Collective Negotiations Agreement for the term January 1, 2008 through December 31, 2011." Whether or not four or five day work weeks are better, the claims that this was contractually irrevocable is inexcusable. It shows total contempt for the public.
Art Vatsky April 20, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Commenting on Tom Abbott's 5:40 PM comment of today: Don't be so hard on the Council. There are other explanations for telling the public that the 4 day work week had become "contractually irrevocable". It could be they were misinformed, or they simply didn't understand the contract terms, or they just didn't want to understand them. Unfortunately, any of these explanations still implies our Council is not the smartest or wisest. Right now, Patch survey responders prefer the 5 Day work week to 4 Days by more than 2 to 1.

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