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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

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Council wants more time to study hazard pay for parish workers

Council wants more time to study hazard pay for parish workers

Lafourche Parish’s Emergency Pay Policy nearly received a change Tuesday night as the Council considered increasing compensation for certain employees who respond during emergencies.

Over the past several months, parish employees who work numerous overtime hours during hurricanes and other rain events have voiced their concern that they are not compensated enough to risk working in dangerous situations.

Currently, during emergencies, parish “first responders” are paid at a rate of one and one half times their hourly rate. 

Many employees feel this is not enough compared to their fellow workers who are not called out.

“We are receiving only half more than the guy who stays home,” said one parish employee at Tuesday’s meeting.

To correct this inequity, an ordinance amending and adding to Ordinance 4962 as it pertains to pay during emergency response and recovery periods had been proposed on May 14 and was on the agenda Tuesday night for a vote.

Parish Administration wanted to change “hazard pay” from the current calculation of 1.5 times an employee’s hourly rate to 3 times that rate for persons asked to respond during an emergency.

“Some of our employees are out there 18 to 24 hours.  They work extremely hard and deserve additional money,” said Parish President Charlotte Randolph.

Admitting that public works employees have expressed their desire for a change, Randolph noted that the ordinance was the result of a two month-study by her human resources department on how best to compensate workers.

“If we don’t pass it, some employees have threatened to not come out,” she said.

Some councilmen claim that the wording of the ordinance gives the Parish President sole power to designate who gets “hazard pay” and also who can be terminated for refusing to respond to a crisis.

At Tuesday's public meeting, Councilman Jerry Lafont immediately requested a deferral of the vote on the ordinance while he studied the proposal.

“There are some things in here we need more time to look at.  I would like to see what other parishes are doing,” he stated.

Councilman Daniel Lorraine argued that salaried employees who are paid on a monthly rate and not based on a 40-hour week should not be paid three times their salaries.

“Some of these people could be sitting at a desk and getting $90 an hour,” he said.

Randolph was upset by the sudden request for a deferral and asked why no councilmen had contacted her office to ask about the proposed ordinance. 

"If you haven't called over the last two weeks, what are you going to ask now?” she questioned.

Randolph also reminded everyone that hurricane season starts June 1, and that a vote is urgently needed.

At the heart of the debate was a last-minute email from Legislative Internal Auditor Dr. Tommy Lasseigne to councilmen noting that passing the ordinance as it is worded could cost the parish a great deal of money.

“It’s been two and a half weeks since it was proposed.  You’ve had time to review it,” said Randolph.

Parish Administrator Archie Chaisson was equally surprised by the proposed deferral. 

“I talked to all but two of you about this ordinance and only one of you had a question.  If you have a question please ask,” he said.

Chaisson also informed the council that if funding the pay increases is the issue, in 2013 the parish budgeted $1 million for emergencies and that $600,000 still remains from which future hazard pay could be paid.

In the end, the Council voted 5-3 to defer the ordinance until the June 11 meeting.  For deferring were Caillouet, Lorraine, Jones, Lafont, and Toups.  Against were Arnold, Fertitta, and Delatte.  Phillip Gouaux was absent from the meeting.