City ratifies amendment on standby policy for employees

On Monday, the Cottage Grove City Council unanimously voted to ratify an amendment to a bargaining agreement with city employees, changing its standby policy to spread responsibility out among more staff.

The policy impacts employees at the city’s Row River Water Treatment Plant, the Cottage Grove Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Utilities Division of the Public Works and Development Department.

An employee on standby is expected to receive after hours calls for service, attend to alarms and take general responsibility to oversee tasks such as turning a plant on or off and making chemical or pump adjustments.

Previously, supervisors of each division were relied upon to answer all calls for after hour service.

“They need to have a break every once in a while, and when they go down the list to call others, they can’t get anybody to come in,” said City Manager Richard Meyers in a KNND Radio interview on Monday’s Beeper Show. “So we’ve had to create standby time to where somebody has the phone and they have to come in if they get called to come in.”

About two or three times a week, employees come in to handle something after hours, said Meyers.

Water Production Superintendent Ryan Kimball, who was hired to the water treatment plant position in June, brought it to the attention of the city that employees would also work split shifts to tend to the plant and quit an hour early to compensate for the time it took to do their work, said Public Works and Development Director Faye Stewart at Monday’s city council meeting.

“In our contract, it’s not legal to work split shifts and so therefore we had to come up with a solution,” said Stewart. “Once that came to my knowledge, we immediately went to paying overtime for that time and made sure that the employees worked their full shift. So this is essentially fixing that problem and allowing our supervisors that have been working nonstop an opportunity to disconnect from the phone.”

The new standby policy will spread out the responsibility for calls for service among multiple employees rather than relying on supervisors as the sole respondents, putting most employees on a weekly rotation while water treatment plant employees rotate daily.

Employees will be paid one hour of overtime pay per weekday and two hours of overtime pay per weekend day and may elect to be paid either in overtime or comp time. 

Supervisors receive no additional compensation for standby or after hour calls.

The new standby policy is also intended to improve response times to calls for service and allow supervisors to break from answering after-hour calls for service.

While Kimball told The Sentinel that the city’s water treatment plant already operates in-house effectively regarding sudden calls for service, an improvement on response times may have impact on other issues faced by the city.

On Oct. 22, 2017, a 12-inch city waterline ruptured at 675 South 14th Street, causing damage to at least six residences as well as requiring subsequent street repairs. 

The city water reservoir lost 1.23 million gallons of treated drinking water in a 2-hour period due to the break.

As a result of the policy amendment, labor expense for the city will increase a maximum of nine hours of overtime per week in the budgets for the water, wastewater and utilities budgets. 

The city expects most standby compensation will be paid in comp time and not directly impact the approved 2020-21 adopted annual budget.

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