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Martinez calls for delay in employee transfers

Tuesday, February 26, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Council Member Mike Martinez is calling on the city to delay the transfer of its health care clinics to the Travis County Healthcare District until he has firm details and better information on employee benefits.


“We have huge issues still on the table that will affect what are now still City employees,” Martinez said. “I do not believe that we can, in good conscience, move forward without making sure we have every protection for our employees as they get transferred to the healthcare district.” About 400 employees would be affected.


Issues that Martinez lists include the transfer of current employees’ accrued benefits such as compensation time and sick leave, as well as a process regarding the transfer of accrued retirement benefits for city employees that are nearing retirement.


This issue did not sneak up on the Travis County Healthcare District. The one piece of legislation the district backed during the last legislative session dealt specifically with the transfer of employees from one entity to the other.


The district’s Christie Garbe said the official transition of the Community Care Services Department employees would not occur until March 1, 2009. At the end of this month, the Healthcare District will provide employees with the specifics of their employment packages, giving them a year to review and consider the changes.


“The district is proud of the Employment Package it is about to announce to future employees,” said CEO Patricia Young Brown. “It is a competitive package designed to attract and retain talented employees and is tailored to support our mission of ensuring access to a full range of coordinated healthcare services.”


Council Member Jennifer Kim agreed with Martinez’s concerns. Kim wants more consultation with City Manager Marc Ott and Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras before the employee transfer is complete.


“The transfer of employees from Brackenridge to Seton – that didn’t turn out the way that it should have – those employees really got a raw open,” Kim said. “So, I think we need to be very careful and look at the cost of the proposals from the city payments as well as from the district as to what would be their obligations if they transfer them.”


Council Member Lee Leffingwell agreed that issues have yet to be resolved.


“The items under discussion to facilitate the transfer of city employees to the Health Care District are complex—involving not only employee benefits but also real estate matters,” Leffingwell said. “At this time, we haven’t fully resolved either of those matters.”


Council Member Betty Dunkerley is not convinced that a delay is necessary. “The longer the transition is delayed, the longer city employees are left without certainty about their future,” said Dunkerley. That is especially important for employees nearing retirement.


“It’s a really good benefit package,” Dunkerley said. “In some respects, I think it is better than ours,” because after an employee has accrued more than 320 hours of combined sick and vacation leave, he or she will be paid for it. City employees are never paid for sick leave unless they went to work for the city before 1986.”


Dunkerley considers the proposed plan “quite strong.” The current unrest among employees over the plan may be due to a lack of information, Dunkerley said. She noted that if retirement is a concern, the city could maintain the employment of those who are still within a couple of years of retirement.


“I don’t know if we have enough spots,” Dunkerley said. “We just need to get some data.”

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