Governor Meets with Workers Eyeing Payday Problems

The Associated Press State & Local Wire

August 10, 2001, Friday, BC cycle

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 598 words

HEADLINE: Governor meets with workers eyeing payday problems

BYLINE: By JAMES JEFFERSON, Associated Press Writer

DATELINE: LITTLE ROCK


BODY:
Thousands of state workers braced Thursday for an emergency they hoped would not come and anxiously awaited money they prayed would come in paychecks Friday.

Hundreds of state workers have encountered pay problems since the state began using a new accounting system to process its payroll July 1. On the first payday under the new $40 million system, more than 500 workers didn't get their paychecks on time and about 200 more received only partial pay. Two weeks later, about 130 state workers didn't get a paycheck and another 290 or so were underpaid.

Scores of state finance employees have been working overtime to correct filing errors and bad data that officials say were the source of most of the problems. Officials said Thursday that six employees still have not received pay and a handful more have not received the rest of partial paychecks they previously received.

"We're cautiously optimistic that the situation will be better" with Friday's payroll, Gov. Mike Huckabee said. "I don't think that we're kidding ourselves to think that there won't be some problems. But when we had the old system, we had problems then, too."

Huckabee met early Thursday with state workers that represent service employees to go over their recommendations for solving problems that state employees have faced because of difficulties with pay.

Huckabee said the meeting was cordial and productive.

"I was able to address the issues and concerns they had, I would like to believe satisfactorily," he said.

"He was sympathetic and we appreciated that," said Leslie Haber, executive director of Local 100 of the Service Employees International Union. "We're making good progress, but we won't stop until everybody who is shut off (from utilities are reconnected)" or who needs to be paid for expenses are paid, and until everyone gets paid on time, she said.

The administration sent letters Wednesday to banks and utilities in the state asking that they give consideration to state workers who incurred bank charges, late fees or shutoffs as a result of not receiving their paychecks on time.

Huckabee also announced Wednesday that he had directed state finance officers to better provide employees with an accounting of payroll withholdings and deductions. Checks processed under the new accounting system have no pay stubs.

Both were concerns that state employee groups raised in recent days.

"The one issue that we don't have a specific time, date and process is the issue of reparations," Huckabee said.

Worker groups want the state to reimburse employees for out-of-pocket expenses they have incurred because their checks were late or their pay was short. Huckabee said the issue was not a top priority.

"What we've got to do is straighten out the real problems immediately," he said. "Once we have that totally in hand, then we'll know the score of how many issues are unresolved, how many people actually had late payments that were ... directly due to their paycheck being late.

"Some of that depends on how much money we're talking about. We don't know if we're looking at a $10,000 problem or a $10 million problem."

Haber said employees who met with the governor urged him to respond promptly.

"The bottom line is that the Legislature and the governor need to work together to resolve this as quickly as possible," she said. "There's a likelihood that people will start hearing from prosecutors about bad checks. We're anxious to deal with this emergency to make sure people don't have to deal with more financial liabilities."