BRADENTON -- On Thursday afternoon, disgruntled and disenfranchised county employees filled the commission chambers for a workshop on compensation, intent not only to give commissioners a piece of their mind, but to get back a slice of their life. They complained about budget cuts that have resulted in fewer workers doing more for less; reduced insurance coverage that now requires co-payments; and having to borrow money to keep pace with the escalating cost of food, gas and keeping the lights on.
Hundreds filled the chambers, spilling out the doors and into the lobby, while one by one they told their story.
They all started with a common theme: I love my job and am proud of what I do, but then went straight into, I'm having trouble paying the bills because I'm making less today then I was making five years ago. Employees seemed to keep asking, "When is this going to end?"
911 operator Carla Poissant from Public Safety said, "30 percent of our employees have had to get modifications or lost their homes to foreclosure, and we are losing employees to other jobs. I give CPR instructions and deliver babies over the phone, but I cannot pay my bills doing a job I love. I made $2,000 less this year than I did last year."
She contributed that loss to rising insurance co-pays and says the expiration of the payroll tax cut is now compounding the trouble. Adding insult to injury, Poissant spoke of how her new employer-sponsored Aetna insurance refused to cover a test her doctor ordered for complications she was having, and how she had to wait until her out of pocket dollars could cover it.
"Now they say they found something, and want to do a biopsy," said a despondent Poissant." What if it is cancer, and all that time I waited?"
Like many, she left the podium lost to her emotions.
Nicole Benshoff said, "I have three children, six, four and three years old. All of my pay goes to their care. I am making too much for any assistance and not enough for anything else."
Billy R. Pinkston, Public Works said it was reported in TBT that the new deal to keep Administrator Ed Hunzeker, might have been a violation of the Sunshine Law. "He got a new benefit package and a $34,700 raise," said Pinkston. "Some of us don't make $34,000."
Robbie Phillips who has worked 15 years for Manatee County said, "I got bills like everyone else. Everything goes up and salary goes down."
Mark Coarsey from Public Works, who has worked for the county since 1984, spoke of the strain stagnant pay is putting on human resources.
"We train them, and then they go to another county for a job," Coarsey complained.
Ralph Braun, Public Works, said he and co-workers take care of 600-plus lift stations and the generator system. "Everybody here is at the bottom. The county is 30 percent below the state averages ... When does it stop?"
Bill Jenkins, who has 15 years at Manatee County said the county commission is "balancing the budget on our backs."
The flood of employees wouldn't let up. One after another they spoke about having to file for bankruptcy, not being to be able to pay bills, falling so far behind they had to rely on family and friends to keep them going, all while the commission sat and listened.
Dr. Jeff Ling, Executive Vice President of Evergreen Solutions had started the meeting with an overview presentation that tried to explain what compression pay and market brands were about, dishing out statistics from various studies. But it was clear that the room was full of real people who amounted to more than a data metric on a Powerpoint slide. It was filled with dedicated, hard working, loyal employees who had but one question: When are we going to be fairly compensated for all that we do?
It will be interesting to see how the commission answers that question.