GRAND BLANC TWP. — The Board of Trustees voted April 9 to give notice to approximately 10 employees at the township that they are being laid-off because they are in roles not currently needed during the COVID-19 shutdown.
The vote to lay-off employees, while maintaining health benefits for them, was 4-3, with Treasurer Earl Guzak, Clerk Cathy Lane and Trustee Joe Massey all voting no.
At least one employee of the group was to be laid-off immediately, while the others were represented by bargaining units so they will require one- and two-weeks’ notice, depending on their union.
Township Superintendent Dennis Liimatta said the township has made every effort to keep the employees on, but they are in roles which have them normally working with the public and with township offices closed during the COVID-19 shutdown they are considered non-essential.
“Most of our people are considered critical infrastructure or support,” said Liimatta. “We are talking less than 10 affected by this and they deal directly with public.”
He said with the government’s emergency unemployment act and State of Michigan unemployment, the employees should be financially sound during layoff. The township will continue to keep the employees on their health insurance plan instead of offering COBRA, because they will be brought back when the COVID-19 situation is resolved.
The township will also absorb the 20 percent contribution from the laid-off employees for their health benefits while they are on furlough, officials said. The township would work with the employees once they return to work to pay back the 20 percent overt the course of the remaining year, said Trustee Lonnie Adkins.
Lane said she was concerned about laying some of the employee off because they would be needed to help count ballots in the May 5 election, but Liimatta said any of the people laid off could be recalled at any time.
Still, Lane remained hesitant to take action.
“There are options. If they want to use vacation time, personal time, even sick time, that would be their option,” she said. “We’re making a decision tonight with no chance to run numbers first. This is 10 out of 100 plus people – it leaves me very uncomfortable.”
Guzak said he felt the township should keep the employees through the end of April and then proceed with layoffs if the governor extends the shutdown further.
Liimatta said if they operate from the belief everyone will be back to work May 1 and keep everyone working and then the governor extends the shelter-in-place order to June 1, they could not complete the layoffs until almost mid-May.
Massey said he wanted more time to consider options, citing this as something the board shouldn’t deal with in haste.
“We’re faced with a situation we’ve never been faced with before in the township,” he said. “We have to deal with this cautiously, with good thinking and good planning. If we make a hasty decision it could come back to haunt us.
“I’m not ready to move on this. I’m not against what’s been laid out, I’m against deciding tonight. We need more discussion.”
Trustee Ken Thomas called the vote and the board rendered a 4-3 decision, allowing Liimatta to move ahead with layoffs.
Also, at the April 9 meeting, the board voted to extend 80 hours of COVID-19 paid leave to the township’s first responders for the purpose of illness, family illness or quarantine during the COVID-19 crisis.
The government’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act included 80 hours of leave time for COVID-19 related issues for all workers, with the exception of first responders – police, fire and EMT personnel.
Liimatta recommended the board consider taking action to give the township’s police and fire personnel similar leave time for the duration of the crisis. The board voted unanimously to extend the benefits to its first responders.