Commission modifies benefit provisions for furloughed city employees

Temporary ‘period of adjustment’ effective March 1 through December 31

The Three Rivers City Commission Tuesday adopted temporary modifications to MERS (Municipal Employees’ Retirement System of Michigan) benefit provisions to adjust the definition of how many days/hours of work are required in a month for city employees to earn service credit, as well as the definition of compensation.

The City of Three Rivers has temporarily closed pubic access to city buildings and has reduced work hours of staff in various departments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. MERS is allowing the temporary benefit adjustments “in recognition of the impact to local units of government and adjustments to their workforce to maintain essential services and comply with the ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ directive and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.”

In an executive summary presented to the commission by Three Rivers’ Director of Finance Cathy Lawson, Lawson wrote, “These adjustments may be changed to account for workload and schedule changes, as well as for different types of compensation, such as paid leave. The temporary period of adjustment is March 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020.”

Lawson said the temporary modifications “may not result in diminishment of benefits for (city employees),” and will affect “both the Non-Bargaining Unit Hybrid Plan (HA) and Clerical/DPS Units Hybrid Plan (HB) for employees who may have had their hours reduced as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

During Tuesday’s meeting Lawson said three staff members in the city’s finance department, two staff members in the police department, and one staff member in the clerk’s office have been “either temporarily furloughed or reduced furloughed.” The City of Three Rivers Department of Public Services staff have had their scheduled modified “to incorporate social distancing” but otherwise are unaffected in terms of total hours worked each month.

Acting Three Rivers Library Director Bobbi Schoon said, in an interview with Watershed Voice following Tuesday’s meeting, the library has had to furlough eight of its employees as a result COVID-19.

Mayor Tom Lowry said Three Rivers is not alone in making these adjustments to its employees’ benefit provisions.

“I’m going to guess this is happening to every municipal government in the state — village, city, county — and we’re just trying to protect our employees from getting shortchanged.”

Alek Haak-Frost is the executive editor of Watershed Voice.