May 15, 2021

Secondary roads staff see summer hours shift

Against union’s recommendation, supervisors try out five, 8-hour days

Despite the majority of secondary roads union members being in favor of working four, 10-hour days during the summer, the Jasper County Board of Supervisors refused to grant their request April 13 and decided to try out five, 8-hour days instead.

Robert Gilmore, representing Public Professional and Maintenance Employees (PPME) Local 2003, presented supervisors with the request. He said the union contracts that extend through June 30, 2025 and were recently negotiated had a provision in the agreement that changed the hours of the work week.

“The provision that we had agreed to change was that the summer work hours, the language had always been in the agreement that would be agreed to by the county … We switched it to the board of supervisors,” Gilmore said, noting this may be the first time it was formally presented to the board.

Gilmore said the union for the secondary roads department wanted to seek agreement for the four, 10-hour days starting in fiscal year 2022. What is colloquially referred to as a 4/10 work schedule is common for the department, and Gilmore said it is a benefit for the workforce and county.

Local 2003 has “several dozen” county road crews, Gilmore added. Sometimes secondary roads employees will work upwards to “20 days in a row,” particularly in bad winters. Most of these workers, he said, clocked in day after day through their weekends. They’re on-call, too, and work odd hours.

Of the 29 paid union workers, 26 voted yes to the 4/10 schedule. Three voted no. Gilmore said of those that voted no, two people indicated they didn’t care either way; but if they had to say “yes” or “no” they would say no for their own personal reasons.

“I think this provision has value in accomplishing end-of-the-day shift, whether we’re out on the end of the road, we’re grating or we’re hauling rock,” Gilmore said. “With that, we’d be open to any questions and your thoughts on continuing this past practice.”

All three supervisors were skeptical of the 4/10 work schedule, but were complimentary of the secondary road crews’ efforts.

Jasper County Supervisor Brandon Talsma said a lot of his concerns centered around weather, a sentiment fellow supervisor Denny Carpenter also shared. If it were to rain on a four-day work week, Talsma suggested it could cut into road maintenance and productivity.

Judd Keuning, a secondary roads worker for Jasper County, said he understands Talsma’s concern but suggested a lot of times on those rainy days employees find other work they can do, such as picking up trash out of ditches in the territories. Rainy days also allow for machine maintenance.

“In regards to the 10-hour days: I, myself, am a blade operator and if I have an 8-hour day my schedule is totally different than a 10-hour day,” Keuning said. “Because if I’m in a 10-hour day I got 96 miles to take care of. So I got a 40-minute drive from my furthest point from my shed

“I get there and it’s like I got a mile or two that I could have done if we had 10-hour days, but I gotta go back to the shed to fuel and paperwork and stuff to do to get home at 3:30 p.m. Then the next day I have to spend another (60-90 minutes) of just plain road time to finish something I could’ve did the day before.”

Keuning said the secondary roads crews will be “grating a lot of miles of roads this year,” suggesting the two extra hours to get the roads in better shape before loading them with rock would be beneficial for citizens. It also gives county employees more time with their families or for appointments, he added.

Gilmore said a 4/10 schedule could be a “good marketing” tool for Jasper County’s employee recruiting processes, too. Despite the union’s support of a traditional work practice, Carpenter worried about the crews that would be working on bridges in hot weather conditions.

“They’re down there welding and gotta have all that equipment — heavy equipment — on to protect themselves from the welding, and if you work down there eight hours you’ve had enough,” Carpenter said. “So I think it affects their productivity on a bridge crew to have to work 10 hours in the heat.”

Keuning said “not one person” on the bridge crew is a union member and does not believe in their contract. There will be parts of the day where it’s going to be hot, but if it’s too hot to weld there could be something else to do to finish out the day that doesn’t require welding, he said.

Talsma recalled the wet 2019 season, which devastated the county’s gravel roads. He said the four-day work week was detrimental during that rainy season, so much so that it felt like the county was only getting a day or a day-and-a-half to blade the roads.

Keuning is worried productivity will go down in a five-day work week. Nevertheless, the board of supervisors voted unanimously in favor to discontinue the four-day work schedule at the start of the next fiscal year. A five-day work week will be implemented instead.

After Keuning and Gilmore left the supervisors chambers, Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott said he didn’t want to get involved in the discussion but suggested if the four-day work week were instated it would have to also be allowed to apply for other departments, too.

“In fact, you need to let the office staff, as well,” Parrott said.

Doug Cupples, chair of the Jasper County Board of Supervisors, said, “It’s a tough decision. But it is what it is.”

Talsma said both sides of the argument had pros and cons.

“If anyone’s paid attention to what I’ve done over the last two-three years I don’t exactly buy into the ‘well-it’s-always-been-this-way.’ Just ‘cause it’s always been that way doesn’t mean it can continue to be so. We’ll try it for a year. If it goes south, OK.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Reporter with a strong penchant for community journalism.