By Peter H. Milliken
After its passage Tuesday by a 55-45 percent vote, considerable concern and uncertainty prevail over the city charter amendment known as the part-time workers’ bill of rights – and its consequences for the community.
Atty. James Messenger, who lives in the city and represents management in personnel and labor relations, calls the bill burdensome and says it could discourage employers from locating in, or staying in, the city.
“It imposes some onerous burdens on private employers,” Messenger said. “It has some rather strict penalty provisions,” beginning with fines of $1,000 each for the first three violations within three years and $10,000 each for additional violations.
“Eventually, it can result in litigation against the employer,” he added.
The bill requires employers to provide part-timers’ work schedules at least two weeks in advance, upon request; pay part-timers the same starting hourly wage as full-timers whose jobs “require equal skill, effort and responsibility;” and give them proportional access to sick leave, personal leave and vacation.
The city “will not be a good place for private employers,” of part-time workers, who are considering where to locate their operations, Messenger said.
“It’s called an employees’ bill of rights, but the obligations of that are on the employer,” he observed, adding the bill doesn’t apply in suburbs, such as Austintown, Boardman or Liberty.
Industries with part-time workers, which likely will be most affected by this bill, include fast food, landscapers, small family-owned retail stores and home health care, he said.
“We were disappointed. We think it’s a very complicated issue, in that it affects only Youngstown city, which makes it even more difficult to oversee and manage,” said Tom Humphries, president and chief executive officer of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.
“There are a number of requirements that are imposed on the employer that complicate scheduling of workers and various other work rules that will be imposed, which work against motivating companies to want to be located in the city limits,” he added.
Humphries said he was surprised the bill passed here, and the chamber must now evaluate its next step. He said he’ll discuss the matter with his counterparts at the Greater Cleveland Partnership in Cleveland, where the bill also passed.
“I don’t know if it’s going to withstand judicial scrutiny” if it’s challenged in court, Messenger said.
The bill says it covers part-time workers employed by private businesses, who work fewer than 40 hours a week, but the ballot language doesn’t specifically say it applies to part-time public-sector employees, Messenger observed.
“It would certainly help part-timers. Many part-timers aren’t covered by collective-bargaining agreements,” said Atty. Dennis Haines, who represents employees and labor unions.
“The problem that I see is that it might discourage the use of part-timers in the city by private employers,” he said.
Employers challenging the bill may argue the National Labor Relations Act pre-empts the municipal bill, and that they have the right to negotiate contracts free of this restriction, he noted.
At the state level, Haines said he would argue that the municipal bill is enforceable because, unlike the state minimum-wage law, state law sets no specific statewide standard governing part-time workers.
Employers may try to avoid the bill’s requirements by converting part-time jobs to independent-contractor arrangements, he said.
Ron Cole, Youngstown State University’s public information officer, said the university’s human resources department needs more information on the bill and its meaning before it can evaluate whether, or how, the bill affects the university.
Johanna Slivinske, a part-time YSU social work instructor and one of more than 650 part-time YSU faculty, said it appears to her the bill “would lead to increased pay equity for part-time faculty and for all part-time workers.”
The university’s part-time faculty have not received a pay increase in more than 25 years, she noted.
The university provost has formed a committee to address pay issues and other concerns of part-time YSU faculty, who have no labor union, but have the YSU Adjunct Faculty Association as an advocate for them.
“At this time, we don’t fully understand all of the details of the ballot issue and how they would affect the library. We will need time to study the issue,” said Heidi Daniel, director of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County.
The library system has 58 part-time employees, of whom 18 work in libraries in Youngstown.
Molly Seals, Mercy Health Youngstown’s vice president of human resources, said, however, her organization gives employees six-week work schedules to help them plan their calendars and gives part-timers paid time off prorated based on the number of hours they work.
“Our part-time employees also enjoy the same starting hourly rate as their full-time counterparts when they have the same level of experience and for positions that require equal skill, effort and responsibility,” Seals said.