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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Face of The County Speaks

NorCo Council on the bench
Last night, Executive John Brown referred to the county workers as the "face of the County." That face was bright red last night over health care plan changes coming at the same time that Brown is telling workers he has no plan to give them any raises. Most of them are going backyards. Over 200 people crowded into Courtroom 1 to let Brown know he's wrong.

AFSCME agent Justus James
AFSCME union agent Justus James spoke on behalf of several of the bargaining units currently in negotiation with the County. He said he's "mad as hell," not just at he health care plan, but Brown's unwillingness to fill vacancies. He noted there are 16 vacancies at the jail, which is making life more dangerous for corrections officers. He noted there are 113 vacancies throughout the County, which Brown himself confirmed in a news conference on Wednesday.

"Is it the employees' fault that $62 million in the reserve fund went magically away?" he asked. He said that when Brown stated that the county worker is its most important asset, he had "hope for a new day." But instead, he's doing more than balancing his budget on the back of the employee, "We just got kicked in the tailbone. ... The employee can no longer afford to pay for the mistakes you've made."

One of the more disturbing speakers was Stacy [last name withheld], a 20-year County employee who has seen her income reduced every year since 2009. She's a single mother, drives a 13 year old truck, has no money to buy a newer car, and for the past year, has been forced to go to a food bank and stand in line for hours because she has no money to go grocery shopping, Her kids eat the old food from Giant.

Tabatha Gartner warns of an exodus
"Why does a 20-year County employee have to go to food banks?" she asked. "There is something wrong with this picture."

Shirley [last name withheld] works in the Revenue Office assisting delinquent taxpayers in making payment arrangements. She noted that Executive Brown had the money for a public relations consultant and other no-bid contracts, "but the county doesn't have money when it comes to us."

Her office is so short-staffed that she was recently forced to work alone. She was nervous and suddenly began shaking and decided she needed to leave for the day. Her Supervisor told her she would need a doctor's excuse, so she went to one who ordered her to stay home several days instead of the afternoon she intended to take off.

"We're understaffed, underpaid, and now, I'm drugged to work here," she complained.

Tabatha Gartner warned these health plan changes will lead to an exodus from Human Services, creating a need for new staff that has to be trained, which will result in a decline of service and lawsuits." It's like firing the entire coaching staff and expecting the team to have a winning season," she observed.

After hearing from both workers and Brown, Peg Ferraro suggested that there be meetings in smaller groups to see if management and employee can come to some middle ground.

""I believe in my heart we should leave everything alone," said Lamont McClure, especially after Bob Werner pointed to research showing the County's health plan falls below the level needed to be considered a Cadillac plan. McClure was also disturbed that Executive Brown would impose these changes while refusing to discuss raises or other benefits. Brown responded that the County's health care plan will become a Cadillac plan by 2018 at its current rate of spending.

If that happens, and no changes are made, the County will be forced to pay a $9.3 million excise tax.

Ken Kraft, in response to several pleas from workers, noted that Council has no authority to prevent Brown from making changes to his health plan. But he added that they do have authority over the budges, which will be introduced next month.

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great coverage Bernie. This is what the people voted for..or did they? I think they voted for something else but are now stuck with a mess especially the county workforce who are the front line service providers. Not a good way to start the budget season. Pretty soon the county workers will all need food stamps and the food banks to survive. Why would anyone want to begin a career with the county under these conditions? JB is a cruel task master..

Anonymous said...

so...what's the county employee turn-over rate. Is it higher, lower, or the same as other employers in the Valley.

It seems we hear this every 8 years or so. First they hated Reibman over healthcare. Then they hated Stoffa over his HR chief. Now they're hating Brown over HIF healthcare.

We always hear they're gonna leave.

Do they?

I really don't have a dog in the fight, but if their conditions really are this deplorable, it will be reflected in an employee turnover rate that is higher than the norm, no?

Anonymous said...

Can you afford to walk away from your job? What are their options? Once your in..it's hard to just pull up stakes and leave especially if you have a family to feed and need some healthcare. You have no idea what your talking about and no empathy at all.

Anonymous said...

Shut up. Stop whining. Try doing some work for a change. You wouldn't last ten minutes in the real world. Which is why you're going nowhere. My last job increased my insurance premiums and froze pay for three years. I left for greener pastures. You can't find greener pastures for your skill sets and lack of motivation.

Anonymous said...

6:49 that is totally an asshole state

Anonymous said...

Right on 6:49 !! Fundamental change is taking place before our eyes. Do what you can to save/adjust your lifestyle because taxing more and spending more is simply no longer the formula to correct this situation.

Anonymous said...

It is obvious that some readers have a distaste for County workers. What a shame. The real fact here is that those individuals who are degrading the County employees have neither the smarts or the intellect to survive in a pressure job like County Government. Working in the Human Service Field, at the prison, with juveniles, with the criminals who appear in the magistrates office, with the sick and the lame, all are high stress jobs that the average citizen wouldn't be up to doing.
Do a job survey of local industries. If County employees are indeed extremely overpaid, then we as taxpayers will be on his side. That is the fair thing to do.

Anonymous said...

To the Teabaggers. Your comments are futile. Your fear propaganda is no longer an effective tool to the masses. You are correct their is fundamental change going on. You just read there was hundreds of employees. Next time double that. The working poor in the county and country has had enough! You cannot keep taking from the bottom when the top keep getting. Brown has no clue and is just another puppet for the Teabag and conservative agenda. His rational is weak. To try to invoke fear and panic if a tax 4 years from now on a health plan that may not even be a Cadillac plan. That would be the same for the workforce to demand getting paid a 2018 salary this year. If u factor COLA and inflation for that year then they would be paid that now! What negotiator or rational person would do that? Oh Brown did already to the newbies at the top. Research all new appointees and they consistently are making 10s to 20s k more than there predecessors that left after working 8 years. Does he believe that the workers and public are stupid?

This is only the beginning. If you back a snake into a corner, be careful as you may get bit.

Anonymous said...

I always thought that working for government of any type meant that their employees were rewarded for contributing to the betterment of the community. It seems that has changed. The county workers are no longer appreciated by the politicians and the community. It use to be a privledge and an honor to work for the county and to help those citizens in of need in the county. Now? Its apparently not appreciated and in fact they are abused. Many employees have not seen a rasie in years. Between wage freezes and tax increases ie: Communter tax the average county work makes less now than they did in 2009. I for one support these county workers for the job they do. Too bad Mr. Brown doesnt.

Anonymous said...

Brown's incredibly stupid decision to hire a PR firm to make him look good would be money better spent in filling one of the essential positions cited by the workers yesterday. Those workers serve the public. It is the public that will suffer when these positions are not filled. Sahl Communications serve Brown. Period. They provide NO VALUE whatsoever to the public, whose taxes are being used to pay for this ridiculous contract. Brown has a "let them eat cake" attitude and ZERO TRUST from his employees.

Anonymous said...

Peg Ferraro is so out of touch with what is going on in the County. Open enrollment starts in two weeks for 2015 Health Coverage. At what point does she think The executive will sit down with the employees and discuss a middle ground?

The executive does not want to sit down with the employees. He is balancing the books on the employees backs. Pretty obvious to me.

I did enjoy the threat of we didn't have to offer any insurance and just get penalized comment. Sounds like a comment that would be made by someone who thinks the employees are the backbone of the county.

I've been working for the County for well over 20 years and have never felt the disconnect that I feel with the current executive.

Raise the deductibles if that is what needed. The co-insurance is totally out of line at this time.

Unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

Agree

Anonymous said...

The face of the county (voters and taxpayers) spoke last year. Someone is finally making tough decisions. The surplus is gone and Gracedale is losing more than ever. Thank you and good job Mr. Brown. This is why we elected you not to just raise taxes.

Anonymous said...

county employees need to face the same reality as the private sector for a long time now, they are VERY late to the party. if they don't like it then they can leave. government is too big anyway. the plan is still way better than most private sector plans.
seems like they are all blaming one individual like he himself spent all the money, but when one doesn't want to be accountable then they always blame something on the outside. seems senseless, they are all on the same team. the county workers and residents are on the same team. fighting against each other is neanderthal. what solutions were provided by the county employees in their rants? i guess they think it is better to just raise taxes for all residents? were any solutions suggested or were they just part of the problem?

Anonymous said...

Goverment is too big. How about cutting things like PR contracts, 20 thousand dollar pay raises, new positions that already have staff in them. Dont blame the many other workers who provide services directly to you and your community.

Anonymous said...

I suggested raising deductibles to a reasonable level. Co-insurance at 10% is out of line. God forbid I have any type of procedure, I'll be paying off the doctors for the rest of my life!

When I accepted the job at the County is was the second lowest offer I was given. I chose the County because of the benefits. I was offered much more at the bank. WHat did you choose? The money?

Anonymous said...

Open the prisons, disconnect 911, close human services and gracedale, close the courts. Save the county taxpayer from paying for these services!

Anonymous said...

Ask not what your county can do for you. Ask what you can do for your county. Deep cuts must be made; coupled with an inevitable, large tax increase. This is going to hurt everyone in the county and all should share the pain of carrying Gracedale and it's $10+ million deficit on their backs. The majority spoke. It wanted Gracedale to remain county-operated and wanted tough cost cutting decisions made by council and the executive. Democracy sucks like that.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Goverment is too big. How about cutting things like PR contracts, 20 thousand dollar pay raises, new positions that already have staff in them. Dont blame the many other workers who provide services directly to you and your community."

This is a selfish statement. I understand being upset about benefits reduced and no raises. But when you slam the good fortune of others who have been recognized for their efforts, you look petty and mean-spirited. Instead of resenting the good fortune of others, you should congratulate them and Brown, and ask him to recognize everyone.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"It seems we hear this every 8 years or so. First they hated Reibman over healthcare. Then they hated Stoffa over his HR chief. Now they're hating Brown over HIF healthcare."

That's very simplistic. Reibman eliminated staff, froze wages, raised taxes 70% (over two years) and started the mass migration into unions. A small army of union members demanded Stoffa to fire the HR Director, which was a petty and a mean-spirited move by unions that had Lamont McClure written all over it. With Brown, it is extremely unfair to ask workers to contribute more to health care while at the same time telling them to expect no raises and to see other benefits reduced. Tpoo many of these workers are going backwards. I decided not to name some of the employees who spoke bc I am sure it embarrassed them to discuss their lives. No child should have to read his mother talking about waiting in line at the food bank. This is a 20 year County employee. That is simply outrageous.

Bernie O'Hare said...

" were any solutions suggested or were they just part of the problem?"

I don't expect a Clerk Tech III to have the answers. I do expect a County Executive who calls that Clerk Tech III the County's most valuable asset to use his business acumen to find out a way to take care of her.

Now I'm just a bottom-feeding blogger, but i have an answer. RAISE TAXES. The County has basically gone 8 years without a tax hike. It is time to take care of good people instead of treating them like shit.

Anonymous said...

these are real people , real problems they are facing . john brown should be ashamed of himself for what he is proposing ,if it was you ,your wife,husband ,child whatever ,would you be happy with any of this ? plain and simple it is unfair to each person working as a county employee , it makes me sad to think they are thought so little of. most companies embrace there employees ,encourage advancement etc.. what on earth is going on here ? shame on you john brown!

Could Be Sal Panto? said...

I support increased wages for county employees and look forward to getting my share of it via my commuter tax. Before you stand in line at the food bank, please make certain your commuter tax payroll deductions are current. Now, I'm off to lunch with some connected developers.

Cheers!

Bernie O'Hare said...

"You just read there was hundreds of employees. Next time double that. The working poor in the county and country has had enough! You cannot keep taking from the bottom when the top keep getting."

Brown is counting on that not happening. You are not going to effect change unless you use your numbers to force him to listen. That is the real power of a union.

Anonymous said...

I agree..

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...
To the Teabaggers. Your comments are futile. Your fear propaganda is no longer an effective tool to the masses. You are correct their is fundamental change going on. You just read there was hundreds of employees. Next time double that. The working poor in the county and country has had enough! You cannot keep taking from the bottom when the top keep getting. Brown has no clue and is just another puppet for the Teabag and conservative agenda. His rational is weak. To try to invoke fear and panic if a tax 4 years from now on a health plan that may not even be a Cadillac plan. That would be the same for the workforce to demand getting paid a 2018 salary this year. If u factor COLA and inflation for that year then they would be paid that now! What negotiator or rational person would do that? Oh Brown did already to the newbies at the top. Research all new appointees and they consistently are making 10s to 20s k more than there predecessors that left after working 8 years. Does he believe that the workers and public are stupid?

This is only the beginning. If you back a snake into a corner, be careful as you may get bit.

7:42 AM"

To the douchebagger:

Well, now you've got us quaking in our boots, dontcha?

Stop with the tantrums and do something with your life, son.

Wait for it...

-Clem

Anonymous said...

my favortie is the lady who said she needed to be drugged to go to work. sorry but it made me literally LOL. nothing with her personally i don't know her but damn that was funny. most people i know feel the same way a bout their jobs, she isn't alone. unless she was talking about someone dragging her to work. either way the imagery is entertaining.

Anonymous said...

Bernie @ 11:07 am -

Agreed that the poster's motivation may be selfish, but the statement is spot on. Government is too big (and too expensive), that's what Mr. Brown told us. PR firm is unnecessary, higher salaries and new positions for FOB are not necessary, antithetical to the overall objective and hypocritical, to say the least.

-Clem

-Clem

Anonymous said...

Your labile responses Clem are really unecessary. I can assure you I am doubly productive in both my personal and professional life than you are.

Instead of addressing the substance of the quote you instead try to personally attack the poster. Another ineffective tool used by uneducated and irrational people.

This will be the last time that I waste any more of my time addressing anything you have to say as if you cannot debate the substance then you really look immature and childish.

Anonymous said...

I believe the county should look into the Grandfather clause of the Obamacare act which says A grandfathered plan is a group health plan or health insurance coverage (group or individual) in which an individual was enrolled on March 23, 2010. Grandfathered plans include self-funded employer-sponsored plans, and insured group and individual health plans in effect on this date. A grandfathered group health plan complies with disclosure and recordkeeping requirements, and has not made any plan changes since that date that would cause grandfathered status to be lost. In general terms, plan changes that can cause loss of grandfathering include: elimination of benefits, increasing coinsurance, increasing fixed dollar cost-sharing (copays, deductibles and out-of-pocket limits) beyond allowed amounts, and the plan sponsor's decrease in its contributions toward the cost of coverage by more than 5%.
By them changing their plan now it will cause them to be taxed. Have they looked into this?? Probably not

Anonymous said...

Here is a description of the so called Cadallac tax : Beginning in 2018, a 40 percent excise tax will be imposed on the value of health insurance benefits exceeding a certain threshold. The estimated thresholds are $10,200 for individual coverage and $27,500 for family coverage. The thresholds may be increased depending on actual medical inflation between 2010 and 2018 using a measure that looks to the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program. The thresholds may also be increased for individuals in high-risk professions and pursuant to an age and gender adjustment.

Has the county consider that those working in the Jail, Gracedale and numerous other areas fall into the higher thresholds catagories and will effect the overall rating of the counties cadillac status?

Anonymous said...

Quote : The President’s top economic adviser, Jason Furman, says only a small percentage of plans will be hit by the tax once it takes effect four years from now. He disputes claims that the Affordable Care Act is causing employers to put more financial burden on employees.

“There is nothing in the law that tells you you need to raise copayments or deductibles.” Furman told NBC News. “In fact, the law limits your ability to shift costs to your workers.”
So, my question is why is Mr. Brown doing this?????

Anonymous said...

The answer is:

How else is he going to help erase any potential deficits.

Oh yeah, if we complain he could always take away our health insurance entirely. That would be a good political move. Even the non-employee taxpaying citizens should have a problem with that.

Anonymous said...

Two things learned today. One, is the county has stopped supplying tissues to workers. Two, anything Brown says is not worth the one ply toilet paper the county still supplies.

Anonymous said...

Isn't using the employees to help balance the budget the same if the federal government used our military to balance their budget by taking away and burdening them with extra costs? The county employees are working to service the people of the county. Not in the same context as the military services our country but why take away and or add burden to the people who service the county? A small tax increase for ALL the residents of the county would be a better solution. It has to happen anyway so why not do it in small increments. Mr brown's history of going into private sector businesses and cleaning out should not be used on oeople who provide an important service to the public.

Anonymous said...

Even Micky d's treats their employees better


http://www.aol.com/article/2014/09/18/mcdonald-s-worker-gets-surprise-of-lifetime-from-boss-after-37-y/20964344/

Anonymous said...

Again.. this is precisely what you get when IDIOTS and IGNORANTS are elected to these jobs. Desension and chaos erupts. There is no need, again no need for more austerity. All this is.. is people in positions that they are truly not qualified to be in. They are people not happy with their own personal lives so they run and get elected to screw with others. The NORCO workers are gems and are NOT living high off the hog. Their jobs are technical and require years and years of training and experience to perfect. Brown is lost and has no clue. What has he EVER run that equates to the business of Northampton County??? The County Executive should be a seasoned educated person with years of equivalent experience, same with Council. It is frankly bullshit that these people can screw with the County like they do!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

Brown has surrounded himself with yes men (and women) on his cabinet who are comfortable with his reptilian nature. He has zero charisma and has earned the mistrust he has fostered with the workforce. He is like Roger Goodell in his press conference today. Mechanical, corporate, rehearsed and without pathos.

Anonymous said...

You mean on the hot seat not the "bench"

Anonymous said...

"Once your in..it's hard to just pull up stakes and leave especially if you have a family to feed and need some healthcare. You have no idea what your talking about and no empathy at all."

actually, I do.

I used to work for government. 3 different times in the course of my life. each time, i left, it was for a better job in the private sector. it was a little risky, but i took the chance. worked out quite well. during the last two jumps, i had a family, and i made the move because i didn't see my government job getting me where i wanted to go.

I'm not saying JB is right or wrong. I am saying that, if he is wrong, that will be reflected in a metric: a higher than normal turn-over rate.

if the turn-over is high, then the County will need to address it, or risk losing too many qualified employees.

if the turn-over rate isn't high, then this really is much ado about nothing.

Anonymous said...

What a shame NORCO has become versus all the previous years. Time for change. Time for new leadership.

Anonymous said...

9:17 you got your change. The county voted in mass numbers to elect a republican majority on council (again) and a Republican County Executive. The republicans have control and they plan to use it to do exactly what they campaigned on. Cut Cut Cut and not raise taxes. What part of the most recent election did you miss?

Anonymous said...

Great health plan, now someone making 23 thousand a year with a 13,600 co-insurance can go to Welfare and get Medicaid. Don't raise those County taxes, (someone mentioned $60) but watch those Federal and State ones. You are just shifting the costs somewhere else. The real issue is to look at what employees are needed to perform the duties the County needs done. Do you really need 4 sheriffs at the door all day? How about pt just when the demand is high? How about looking at duties that may have been automated but there are still FT staff in those slots? Duties that have been farmed out to other entities but administratve staff still remain. If you really want to fix the issue then work with the staff. I bet they would have some great ideas. Those making the top dollars may think the change is small, but I don't think most of the County staff would think this. You should all be concerned about this. Call me a socialist but it is high time those at top start looking out for those at the bottom. One day you might be there.

Anonymous said...

oh the county didn't vote in mass numbers...raise taxes already ! what john brown wants to do is totally out of touch with reality!

Anonymous said...

I find it amazing that Brown and his crew believe they are some sort of mandate to practically shut down the NORCO govt through extreme austerity. They were not given any such mandate. I really hope that a tea party person one day needs service at NORCO and shows up and there is no one there to provide it or no one there to provide it that knows what he or she is doing. That is the only way that these people will finally not be voted into office.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe this dimwit, John Brown (even his name screams dimwit), had the audacity to state he could just take away everyone's healthcare and make them fend for themselves. Why don't you try that. This man is really over matched by this job.