Faced with falling revenue, the counties that fund the Great River Regional Library System last year implemented what they hoped would be cost-saving measures. The unwanted results: Two age-discrimination lawsuits, the unionization of library managers, higher unemployment comp costs and spiraling legal fees.
Like many localities, Stearns, Benton, Sherburne, Morrison, Todd and Wright counties face tough choices in a recession-ravaged economy. They hoped trimming payroll and consolidating some positions could offset the anticipated 1% drop on the revenue side of the system’s budget.
In all, six positions were eliminated. The laid-off workers were given an opportunity to reapply.
Two library employees, Karla Kraft and Debi Krantz, reapplied for jobs they had held for years, only to be replaced by younger and—they claim—less experienced staffers. Both Kraft and Krantz are older than 55, and their replacements are under 40. They have filed age discrimination complaints with the EEOC.
The staffing cutbacks made branch managers nervous enough to join the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union. On average, branch managers now work between four and eight fewer hours per week since the downsizing.
The cost savings? These days, administrators are talking more about efficiency gains than actual dollar savings. That’s a different tune than the one they were singing a year ago when the plan went into effect.
Unemployment compensation costs have jumped from $4,000 to $40,000. Legal fees went from $6,600 to $35,000 as the system geared up to handle unionization.
Note: Cutting jobs is never easy. Employers must use objective measures when they reduce staffing.
In this case, one worker was told she “lacked initiative” when she reapplied for her old job. If her previous evaluations made no mention of an initiative problem, the library will have a tough time convincing a jury that this wasn’t just code for “too old.” It will do better in court if it can point to measures of how much work the person did compared with what was expected of her, or compared with other workers in the same job.