Possible cuts upset county workers

Courthouse employee Tracy Fluke has worked for Blair County for 21 years but now finds herself facing unemployment because of the recent sale of the Valley View Home.

The county completed the sale of its nursing facility on May 31, and now Fluke faces loss of her job because of a union rule called bumping.

The fear of losing her job is wearing on her, she said this week.

She said she keeps working hard in an effort to forget what probably will happen in only a few days but added, “I can’t keep it out of my brain.”

She said the uncertainty makes her sick.

William Neely, a courthouse worker for 22 years, is in the same boat. He said the situation caused by the transfer of Valley View to Reliant Valley View Limited Liability Corp. of Philadelphia has lowered morale in the courthouse maintenance department with people taking time off because they have that same pit-of -the-stomach feeling.

The problem experienced by these two workers stems from a union contract that covered many of Valley View’s former employees as well as the county highway and maintenance departments.

The contract between the county and the Service Employees International Union permits bumping, in which workers with longer service can take the jobs of lesser tenured employees, provided they are qualified to do the job and the jobs are at the same or lower pay grade.

Union workers whose positions have been eliminated cannot bump into a higher-paying job, said Neely, who is co-president of the SEIU group that covers more than 20 courthouse-related employees.

Neely estimated Thursday possibly seven of the courthouse group could lose their jobs because of bumping, but that number depends on many circumstances. Some may retire. Some may decide they don’t like the work they would be assigned in the courthouse.

The controversy came about because of an unintended consequence of the nursing home’s sale.

County commissioners Terry Tomassetti and Diane Meling voted to sell the home for financial reasons, with the county receiving more than $16 million for the facility.

Commissioner Ted A. Beam Jr. opposed the sale.

Beam said he wasn’t aware of the details of the transfer of ownership, but he said he knew the union contract that was in place for the more than 200 workers in the SEIU unit included a bumping procedure that preserves employment for the longest-serving workers.

Tomassetti said he became aware of the bumping issue about a month before the nursing home was to be transferred to new ownership.

He takes the position that bumping is a union matter. It is not a problem the commissioners are responsible for.

Tomassetti said a couple of years ago he was in favor the breaking up the SEIU bargaining unit that included both Valley View workers and the courthouse maintenance department. If that had occurred, bumping would not be an issue today.

He said having workers with such different responsibilities in one bargaining unit “didn’t make sense.”

The SEIU bargaining unit rejected the idea of splitting the unit.

Neely remembered that the commissioner favored a split, and he said, he also favored it.

The problem was that the workers from Valley View outnumbered the courthouse workers in the unit ten-to-one, and Neely said the support wasn’t there.

Retired Valley View worker and SEIU representative Dawn Porter said Wednesday that while there is concern among workers in the courthouse about their futures, the same goes for the Valley View workers who were part of the SEIU bargaining unit.

The uncertainty concerns Neely and Fluke, who are both well-known and well-liked in the courthouse.

Neely said he is co-president of the union but said he wasn’t informed about anything – until Thursday.

He said he believes some people in lower-paying positions are attempting to bump into higher-paying positions, which is not covered by the union contract.

He also questioned the qualifications of some of those who may attempt to take maintenance department jobs.

Valley View’s union workers include former dietary and housekeeping employees and certified nurse’s aides.

He said the courthouse maintenance staff handles a variety of duties from helping to construct new offices in the building, painting, snow removal, fixing items such as toilets, unloading trucks, setting up for elections in 97 precincts and mowing grass to the lesser details that keep the courthouse working on a daily basis, like changing light bulbs.

Because maintenance has staff in the courthouse 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it also provides security during the off hours, Neely said.

Neely said the situation is making everybody “feel lousy.”

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.