Charlottesville has stopped paying more than 200 temporary employees who were receiving paychecks throughout the pandemic although they weren’t able to work.
The City Council concluded its business early Tuesday morning discussing the end of payments to temporary city employees.
Non-essential personnel were told to stay home starting March 17 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
While some employees were working from home, those who couldn’t were still being compensated at their normal salary rate based on how many hours they typically worked over the past year.
Human Resources Director Michele Vineyard said specifically in Parks and Recreation there were 379 temporary employees covering 492 positions.
Vineyard said 152 Parks and Recreation employees had worked or been scheduled to work in the March 14 to March 27 pay period.
Those employees were paid through Aug. 22, costing the city an average of $26,339 per week and a total of $605,817.
On Aug. 3, 90 temporary employees stopped receiving payments, primarily because “their roles were directly related to facilities that were closed,” Vineyard said.
Vineyard said all affected employees were contacted through emails, phone calls and meetings with their supervisors. Her presentation to the council indicated “only a few” employees pushed back on the decision.
“There were a few who said, ‘thank you for letting me know ahead of time,’” she said. “And there were a few who were surprised they were continuing to get paid as long as they were.”
Some customer service attendants had been moved to other departments, but Vineyard said certain parks employees could not be moved because their job classification was specific to certain programs, such as lifeguards, instructors or referees.
As of Oct. 7, 217 temporary employees working 238 positions had been removed from payroll.
Vineyard said 160 temporary employees are still on the payroll, but not all are actively working. Temporary employees are now instead receiving payment for actual hours worked rather than an average payment.
For comparison, Vineyard said Albemarle County, Harrisonburg and Staunton took temporary or seasonal employees off their payroll in May.
City officials characterized the move as necessary as revenue projections remain bleak due to the pandemic.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker requested the item be placed on the agenda. She was a Parks and Recreation employee, but said she resigned over concerns about how temporary and seasonal personnel were being laid off.
“They’re not college students or children of our elected officials. … They are people who are in charge of households,” she said. “I as an employee did not get some of the notifications that other employees received and once I received them, we were at a date where their pay would be stopping shortly so they didn’t get adequate notification for the people who are earning the least amount of money in the organization.”
Walker was frustrated with how the process played out and that the council was not involved in discussions around the decision.
Councilor Heather Hill said the city needs to have a clear process for how these decisions will be made going forward, with effective communication among leadership. Walker said the city needed to address what has already happened first.
“Even before we get to moving forward, you have to address how you are going to remedy what has already taken place,” she said.
Walker characterized the decision as pitting low-income people against each other and as the “exact workings and foundations of a capitalist system.”
“You have now pushed, according to the report, hundreds of people out into the street and you all just said thank you for the report and that should be unacceptable to all of us,” she said.
Walker said she was unable to come to an agreement with former City Manager Tarron Richardson about how the employees with specific job titles could be moved to other departments.
Parks and Recreation Director Todd Brown said he met with the school division and other departments about using its temporary staff for other roles.
Walker said the employees were classified as temporary or seasonal, even though they did part- or full-time work.
She referenced an equity committee convened by former Deputy City Manager Mike Murphy that determined in 2019 the city had 471 temporary employees working five to 40 hours a week.
“Just because the label there was temporary, they were not temporary employees,” she said. “They were not individuals who did not have skills.”
Councilor Sena Magill said the city also needs to address its use of temporary employees holistically.
“We all know one of our long-term issues we have to deal with is that we have temporary staff that really should have been part-time staff or full-time,” she said. “It’s not a temporary job because they’ve been doing it for a while.”
Interim City Manager John Blair said the city’s budget team is meeting Nov. 6 and will discuss revenue projections. The meeting will also focus on mitigation efforts to ensure the city maintains its level of service and employees.