County workers excited to return to work

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - After more than two months without a paycheck, around 700 Jefferson County employees returned to work Monday in what employees said was an emotional and overwhelming day.

Paul McCaleb has worked for the county more than 27 years, only three years shy of retirement, when he found out in July he was one of the hundreds put on administrative leave without pay.

"It was a shock initially," McCaleb said. "When you've been at one place working for over 25 years, you get acclimated to going to work everyday."

McCaleb said there were a lot of happy moments Monday as many employees hugged or shed tears of joy when they saw co-workers after two months off the job.

"I was up at 4 this morning getting ready," said Jamelia Pearson. "I felt like a little kid going back to school I was so excited."

Pearson said the situation wasn't as big of a burden financially for her because she is single, but said the unpaid time off was more difficult for co-workers who had families.

"I don't think people don't really understand the employees also suffered," Pearson said. "We had to get tags, we had do things and we were a part of the public, had to stand in those lines.  I'm just glad there's some sort of normalcy to come back to."

The county commission brought the employees back to work Monday after putting them on administrative leave without pay August 1st. The unpaid leave was part of the commission's efforts to balance its previous budget after a judge declared the county's occupational tax unconstitutional. The Alabama Legislature authorized a new county occupational tax in August, which will take effect January 1st.

The Jefferson County Employees Credit Union helpled members who were on leave. Credit Union President Charlie Faulkner said his staff formulated a plan to aid employees who might not be able to keep up with their finances, whether it be auto loans, home mortgages, personal loans or credit cards.

"We restructured the loans, some we refinanced," said Faulkner. "We gave them extensions so they wouldn't have a payment due after they came back to work."