Photo courtesy City of El Paso

City of El Paso to reinstate some furloughed employees

Wednesday afternoon, officials with the City of El Paso announced the reinstatement of  some employees who were furloughed in May 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However that announcement may not cover all those who were furloughed last year.

According to a report in El Paso Matters, the city “informed a number of furloughed library employees that their jobs are being permanently eliminated.”

In the article by Elida S. Perez, some library employees are quoted as saying they received information that their jobs were permanently eliminated.

Multiple librarians who were on furlough status for much of the past year received letters from the city that said they will be laid off effective in April.

“I feel betrayed. I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the heart,” said Sue Barnum, a librarian who has worked for the city for about 13 years.

In Wednesday’s media release, city officials say the entire process was a difficult one, but made no mentions of job eliminations.

“The decision to furlough our employees was a very difficult decision for us,” said Chief Financial Officer Robert Cortinas. “However, because of our proactive approach to the City’s budget, we are pleased to report that we will begin working this month to reinstate the remaining employees who were furloughed.”

In April 2020, the City furloughed 156 employees, and several furloughed employees had already been reinstated as of  June 2020.

Later that month, the El Paso City Council approved amending the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Resolution establishing a furlough policy and system to address possible budget shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic and allowing the City to protect the community’s health and safety.

Currently, 75 employees remain furloughed.

City officials stated that, throughout the furlough period, the City continued to pay the employees’ and their families’ health insurance, basic life insurance, and contributed to their Health Savings Account.

“With this month’s reinstatement process, the employees will be offered a position within the City that is comparable to their previous positions and salary,” officials added via the news release.

The Human Resources Department is coordinating the reinstatement process in accordance with the Civil Service Rules and Regulations.

“We have seen and received several reports of misinformation about our employees. We want to correct the record and advise the community that we are working to bring all furloughed employees back to work, while also making every effort to ensure that current salaries and compensation of the affected employees will not be negatively impacted,” said City Manager Tommy Gonzalez. “We have been aggressive in our actions to give our furloughed employees the best opportunity to place them in positions suitable for them by implementing a 30-day hiring freeze to ensure we have enough frozen vacant positions for each of the furloughed employees, so that they can be placed in the position that best suits their skills.”

The City’s Civil Service Rules dictates how the City must communicate with Civil Service employees who fall under the Rules, and so the City is bound to follow them.

With respect to bringing back furloughed employees, Human Resources will meet with each affected employee to make sure they are aware of their rights and obligations and will make an offer for them to return to work. Per the Civil Service Rules, the City has 30 days to place all affected employees and placements will be made in the order of the employee’s seniority with the City.

To ensure the City is able to abide by the 30-day limit, and consistent with the City’s hiring practices, each employee will be provided 24 hours from the time they meet with Human Resources (HR) staff to make a decision about returning to work. The 24-hour clock does not start ticking until HR meets with the employee.

The currently impacted positions are not being deleted and it is the City’s intention, as it has been presented to the Council, to continue phasing-in the reopening of Quality of Life services. As facility and services are brought back online affected employees will be eligible to apply for the reactivated positions.