BEDFORD - Bedford County's chief judge filed a federal labor complaint against the county commissioners Wednesday, alleging that the county's inability - or in his words, refusal - to pay probation officers' overtime violates labor law.
President Judge Thomas Ling's complaint to the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division follows a related union grievance against the county, filed last week amid an increasingly high-stakes dispute that has placed dozens of Bedford County workers' jobs at risk.
Over the last two-week pay period, the county's eight probation officers went with either insufficient or non-existent overtime pay. Commissioner Chairman Kirt Morris blamed Ling, whose refusal to turn over more than $250,000 in government funds has allegedly contributed to the county's financial woes.
"We don't have any money," Morris said. "He could release the funds, and everything would be fine."
Ling noted Wednesday that the county has continued to pay other departments' overtime, offering the sheriff's office as an example.
Morris said the probation officers' overtime money, however, comes from a separate fund collected from criminal fees - the same fund now tied up in the county's ongoing financial dispute.
The battle began last year, when the commissioners, citing spotty repayments, stopped forwarding taxpayer money to the probation office on credit. Ling demanded that the commissioners resume the flow of extra money to the comparatively low-paid probation office; he then seized hundreds of thousands of dollars in county funds to force their hands.
Both sides now appear poised to go a step further. Ling announced in his labor-law complaint that, until the county resumes overtime payments, only one officer will be available to work past business hours.
That will leave Chief Probation Officer Keith Bowser, Ling's ally in the dispute, as the sole nighttime on-call officer in all of Bedford County, Ling said. Ling said he'll soon send a message to county justice agencies and police departments informing them of the reduced service.
Morris said the commissioners intend to hire extra legal counsel, with both sides digging in and the case increasingly likely to reach the state courts.
"We're going to go to the next step," Morris said.
The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, a statewide group representing county officials, has watched the case closely for the legal precedent it will likely set, he said.
Morris refused to comment on how the commissioners plan to fend off their new labor complaints, but said they didn't come as a surprise.
In a grievance dated Friday, Service Employees International Union Local 668 complained that at least two probation workers weren't paid overtime in mid-September, allegedly in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The grievance form listed a planned meeting this week; an SEIU spokeswoman said it has been delayed to early November.
Ling's and the union's complaints aren't the first sign that the financial dispute has hit Bedford County workers: union representatives for jail guards have said layoffs appear inevitable, while Morris has said dozens of countywide dismissals could become necessary.
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.