Berne highway workers get 3-year 10-percent raise in new contract

Highway Superintendent Randy Bashwinger

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Highway Superintendent Randy Bashwinger in the highway garage in 2016, his first year in the position.

BERNE — Berne’s highway workers are guaranteed a 10-percent raise in their new labor contract, approved by the town board on Aug. 26, along with longevity pay bonuses that run from 60 cents per hour to $1.08 per hour, a potential four-day workweek at 10 hours per day day year-round, and the option of compensatory time in lieu of overtime. 

Councilman Joel Willsey and Councilwoman Bonnie Conklin both voted against the contract authorization, each citing concerns over Berne’s financial standing during the pandemic-induced recession. 

“I want to be very conservative with our budget,” Conklin said as she cast her no vote. 

Conklin, a Conservative, was backed by Republicans in the November elections and generally votes with the other three GOP-back board members. Willsey is the sole Democrat on the board and frequently votes alone.

Prior to the vote, Willsey pressed Supervisor Sean Lyons on what total additional cost the town would incur under the new labor contract, which Lyons, who said he had performed an analysis with the town’s accounting clerk, declined to provide. 

Councilman Mathew Harris told Willsey that he had done the cost-analysis himself and challenged Willsey to do the same.

“You have to do the work,” Harris said. 

Lyons acknowledged during Willsey’s questioning that the budget analysis he did with the accounting clerk was documented in a spreadsheet but contradictorily stated that no documents were generated, apparently on the basis that the spreadsheet was not an official town document that he’s obligated to share with a board member. 

Lyons could not immediately be reached by The Enterprise to explain why he refused to provide that information, nor why the seemingly simple calculations would require the combined efforts of the supervisor — the town’s chief financial officer — and an accounting clerk. 

By The Enterprise’s calculations, the contract will generate approximately $28,587.60 in additional expenses by the end of 2022 — minus the bonuses for longevity — if every employee takes advantage of the annual compensations for safety shoes, eyewear replacement, and prescription safety eyewear. 

Highway Superintendent Randy Bashwinger, who also chairs the town’s Republican committee, could not be reached to confirm the duration of continuous employment for each of the town’s six full-time highway workers, but said during the Aug. 26 meeting that all highway workers had been there for more than five years, with one worker having been there for three-and-a-half years.

The longevity pay item, which is listed as a new section on the contract’s memorandum of agreement, offers an additional 60 cents per hour for workers with more than five continuous years of employment; 72 cents per hour for workers with more than 10; 84 cents for workers with more than 15; and $1.08 for workers with more than 20.

The bonuses are not stackable.

Highway Superintendent Randy Bashwinger told The Enterprise that he has six full-time workers. One has been with the town for 20 years; two for 13 years; one for 10 years; one for six years; and one for three years.  

The bonuses, then, will add approximately $7,978.20 to 2020 expenses. Assuming there are no personnel changes, the bonuses will cost the town $22,704.60 by the end of 2022, bringing the total assumed cost of the contract to $58,042.20.

Money may be saved at the expense of productivity with the compensatory time option, where workers can accumulate time off at a one-to-one rate for overtime worked, rather than receive time-and-a-half pay. This compensatory time can be sold back to the town at the usual pay rate.

“I would say the guys are happy that it is done,” Bashwinger told The Enterprise this week of his employees and the contract negotiations. “I think it was a good deal with the union. Hopefully we will keep the guys around and keep morale up.”

Bashwinger said that the highway workers “would do anything for the town,” adding that they get up as early as 2 a.m. in the winter to plow and sand roads.

“They have to work a lot of overtime to make a good salary,” Bashwinger said. “As far as raises and time off, they deserve every bit of it … .” 

 

Four-day workweek

The year-round four-day workweek potential is an expansion on the previous arrangement, which allowed Bashwinger to schedule his employees for 10-hour days Monday-through-Thursday only between the third Sunday in June and Labor Day. 

In 2016, the compressed workweek was a point of major contention between Bashwinger and Berne’s then-Supervisor Kevin Crosier, who laid off two highway workers in what Bashwinger interpreted as a salvo against the department, which had been advocating for that schedule format. 

In 2016, Crosier told The Enterprise, “I said to [ the laid off workers], ‘The town board cannot carry six full-time workers who are only there four days a week.’”

In the midst of public uproar, the two workers were soon back on the job.

There was little substantial discussion about the compressed workweek at the Aug. 26 meeting, but Bashwinger has argued that a four-day workweek cuts down on overtime hours by streamlining operations.

“We saved a lot of money and got much more done, double or triple the amount of work we would have done in five eight-hour days,” Bashwinger said in 2016. The improved efficiency comes from less time spent getting equipment in and out of the garage between projects, which occurs more often when the work is broken across five days in shorter spurts, Bashwinger said.

This week, Bashwinger told The Enterprise that a four-day workweek allows for six additional hours of labor, since lunches and breaks are scheduled differently, and reiterated that there is less “traveling job to job and less wear and tear on vehicles.”

“It works,” Bashwinger said, “and while I am in [as superintendent] we will always do it.”

 

Financial standing

The vote to authorize the supervisor’s signature on the labor contract comes just after Lyons broke down the town’s financial standing for The Enterprise, laying out a picture of Berne’s finances that is far more healthy than some residents had been expecting. 

Lyons told The Enterprise that unanticipated revenue from 2019 sales-tax “was rolled over into the sales-tax revenue of 2020, giving us a huge starting point and nearly covering our COVID losses. That along with budget cuts I am proposing will give the Town another good starting point for 2021,” he wrote in an email to The Enterprise.

Lyons said that he came up with budget reductions totaling 11-percent of third- and fourth-quarter expenses that don’t affect personnel or services. Those reductions were going to be introduced at the Aug. 26 meeting, but shortly into the discussion, before most specific items were announced, Lyons moved on to the next agenda item after Willsey complained that he did not get enough time to review the changes. 

Lyons summarized the reductions at the meeting as expenses related to food and concessions, travel, and non-essential training.

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