Turlock workers compensated for travel

TURLOCK -- The city of Turlock has paid out more than $24,000 in back pay to employees who weren't adequately compensated for travel time over the past three years.

The payout could be a sign that months of negotiations between city management and the Turlock City Employee Association over a new labor agreement is nearing a close.

Waste-water treatment workers, road crews and parks crews that handle pesticides, along with dozens of other rank-and-file jobs require safety training and job-related education. When workers were sent to classes and seminars, they weren't entirely on the clock, Assistant City Manager John French said.

Many workers were told to report travel and training days as regular eight-hour days when, in fact, with travel time, the day called for much longer hours, French said.

"This routinely happened on training days where employees were required to go to Sacra-mento and other cities for work-related education," he said.

Employees brought the issue forward because the Turlock City Employee Association contract requires pay for manda-tory travel. The payout and new policies to prevent the mix-up from happening again have been discussed in contract talks.

"We still are working through all the details and haven't been able to get it quite all together," said Bob Phibbs, a Lodi-based attorney representing the employees union.

But, Phibbs said, they're close to reaching a new labor agreement. "Call me in a week," he said.

Managers will be alerted to the travel policy, and pamphlets may be made available to man-agers and employees, French said.

After the errors came to light, city brass reviewed three years of travel documentation. Many positions require regular certification that must be kept on rec-ord, French said. That infor- mation was cross-checked with timecards and payouts issued when time was underreported.

Employees saw the bulge in their checks last week. Though $24,434 has been paid out, that amount could grow because employees still can come forward if they think they've been shortchanged.

"If anyone has anything else," French said, "they know to bring it forward."

There are certain situations where an employee could be double-paid, but French said he hadn't heard of any such cases.

"I'm sure that's something no one wants to do -- cheat their employer," he said. "But we've put a mechanism in place since it's come to light."

Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at mshea@modbee.com or 578-2391.