Cool rhetoric in Johnstown

The new overtime rules in the town of Johnstown have sparked a nasty public debate. Last week, members of the Town Highway Department assailed Johnstown Town Supervisor Nancy MacVean and members of the Town Board for passing a law that limits overtime pay to only situations in which employees have worked more than 40 hours.

During the meeting, Supervisor MacVean made the statement “If I didn’t hate the Highway Department before, I’m starting to now.” That kind of rhetoric is over the top and MacVean should know better, but the Town Board was still within its rights to pass the 40-hour rule, which is a common-sense approach to overtime.

Town Highway employees would prefer to be paid overtime any day in which they work more hours than their normal work week shift, which runs Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., which is the standard used for paying overtime to most state employees and the standard used in many public-employee union contracts.

But the rules the state uses for overtime are absurd and have led to dramatic overtime costs for taxpayers in New York, but little can be done about it given the state’s public-employee union contracts and the state laws that make those contracts so difficult to change. The Johnstown Town Board was only able to change its overtime rules because the Johnstown Highway Department is not unionized, something for which every town taxpayer should be very grateful. Fulton County’s unionized Highway Department has a labor contract that mandates each of its employees receive a minimum of four hours of overtime any time employees are required to work outside of their normal work week, regardless of whether there are four hours of work to be done. Johnstown Highway Superintendent T.J. Bradt has the ability to do work for the town without being restricted by a labor contract that would likely prohibit non-union employees from doing work controlled by the union, a privilege most town highway superintendents don’t have.

The fact that other government employees have it better than Johnstown’s Highway Department is no excuse for the abuse of overtime pay, but it should remind MacVean and others that Johnstown’s employees should not be subjected to scorn.