County commission: not bringing workers back early

By WBRC staff

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The Jefferson County Commission rejected a plan Tuesday to bring more than 700 workers on leave back before October 10th.

On a vote of four-to-one, the commission refused Tuesday to bring the employees back next week. Commission President Bettye Fine Collins believed the total recall would have violated federal labor laws.

"We can not bring them back and pay them until we start having advantage of the occupational tax," said Collins.

Last week, Commissioner Bobby Humphreys proposed a resolution that would have recalled the workers currently on administrative leave to work on September 21.  Commissioners William Bell and Sheila Smoot signed the resolution, but Tuesday, Bell changed his mind after being convinced there was not enough money to pay the worker's salaries.

"I also have an obligation whatever we do, we are on sound financial ground." said Bell.

The commissioners did vote to recall 40 employees for the revenue and tax collection offices. Collins said the commission did the right thing bringing only a limited number of employees back.

"I think the commission acted responsibly in duty," said Collins. "With a call back of these people as a priority as far as collecting fees and taxes."

Jefferson County Attorney Jeff Sewell told commissioners putting all of the workers back on the payroll was delaying negotiations with Regions Bank for a loan. Sewell said there were concerns about the county meeting it's debt obligations.

Commissioner Bobby Humphryes supported the recall of all the employees. Humphryes said the money can be found.

"Absolutely I think the money can be found," said Humphryes. "The money is there. Whether it's in one fund or another. It could have been moved around to pay them."

County employees on leave who jammed the commission chamber Tuesday morning left disappointed.

"It's about what I thought," said Lee Baldwin.  "We have been lied to for two or three months now. I don't think this would have been any different."

"A big let down," said Billy Acton.  "I was hoping to go back to work Monday."

Many of the workers who now face not being recalled until at least October 10th are concerned about their families.

"We are all disappointed," said Jason Fine. "We have families to worry about. It's not looking good for the county."

Earlier Tuesday morning, the Jefferson County Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conferenced urged the commission to bring the workers back.

"We are tired of the games the commissioners are playing with the lives of these employees," said Calvin Woods, Jefferson Co. SCLC President.

Woods called on the commissioners to resign and said he sent a letter to Governor Bob Riley asking Riley to take control of the county and put the workers back to work.

"Please come into Jefferson County with a state takeover of this county business," said Woods.

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